FAQ on Flint Water Crisis - WNEM TV 5

FAQ on Flint Water Crisis

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FLINT, MI (WNEM) -

Due to the complex nature of the Flint Water Crisis, we are attempting to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

Is Flint water safe to drink?

No one really knows the current status of lead in Flint's water supply. Therefore, all residents in the City of Flint are advised to avoid drinking water from the water system. That means using filtered water for brushing your teeth, cooking, washing fruits and vegetables and cooking. Some residents in surrounding communities are also on the Flint water system. View the interactive map of the Flint water system here.

Can I see the lead in my water?

No. You cannot see, smell, or taste lead in water. It also will not cause your water to change color. The only way to know the lead level in your home is to have it tested.

Where can I get a home water testing kit?

Home water testing kits are available at Flint City Hall, the Flint Water Treatment Plant or Flint Fire Department locations. For more information call 2-1-1.

Is bathing or showering in water with high lead levels OK?

The Center for Disease Control says it is safe to bath or shower in water with lead over the EPA's action level. Human skin does not quickly absorb lead in water. But you should not bathe your child in water with high levels if they may drink some of the bath water. The Michigan Department of Human Services also said it is safe for Flint residents to bathe in the water. Click here for more information.

Why is lead in the water a problem?

Lead is a toxic metal that can cause health problems if ingesting or inhaled. The impact from exposure can range from biochemical changes to severe neurological  and toxic effects. Death is even possible at high levels. Young children and fetuses are particularly impacted by lead poisoning. A small dose that may have little effect on an adult can significantly harm a child. It can lead to stunted mental and physical development, and behavioral problems, especially as growing children will more rapidly absorb any lead they consume.

How much lead is too much?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe blood lead level in children. The Environmental Protection Agency has set a limit of 15ppb. If testing of your water is near, or higher than that, you are advised to make changes to reduce the level. (One ppb is equal to 1.0 microgram per liter (pg/1) or 0.001 milligram per liter (mg/1).

What causes lead in drinking water and why can't Flint’s Water Treatment Plant remove the high levels of lead?

Lead enters tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials either in city owned pipes or home pipes. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead fixtures and solder. Older homes built prior to World War II are more likely to contain lead pipes. The most common problem with newer construction is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures which can leach significant amounts of lead into the water, especially hot water. Some people estimate about half of Flint's homes are served by lead service lines, but there is no concrete number. The amount of lead in tap water also depends on the types and amounts of minerals in the water, how long the water stays in the pipes, the amount of wear in the pipes, the pH of the water and its temperature. The water treatment plant cannot remove lead from the water since the leaching happens after the water leaves the treatment plant.

Will boiling my water get rid of the lead?

No. Only filters that have been certified by an independent testing organization will reduce or eliminate lead. Click here for information about the boil water alert.

Will my filter remove all lead? 

NSF certified filters will remove 99.3 percent of a lead from water with a concentration of 150 ppb. A spokesperson from Brita addressed these concerns back in October.

The filters do require proper maintenance or they won't continue to work efficiently. That includes changing cartridges, having them installed properly and following directions on packaging for use.

Does it matter what temperature the water is running through my filter?

Yes, run only cold water through the filter. Also remember to change the filter cartridge as often as the instructions say.

What can I use unfiltered water for?

The Genesee County Health Department says you can use unfiltered water for washing your hands, washing dishes, wiping down countertops, washing clothes and mopping floors. If you are an adult, you can use unfiltered tap water to brush your teeth.

Where can I go to have my or my children's blood tested for lead?

You can have your child's blood lead test done at your doctor's office. Tests are covered by most health plans. Your child can also get a free lead test at the Genesee County Health Department. Click here for information on hours and requirements. You should have your child tests as soon as possible.

  • A lead level below 5 means there is a little lead in your child's blood. Your doctor may suggest retesting your child within the next 12 months to make sure the level does not go up.
  • A lead level of 5-44 means that your child has had some exposure to lead. Work with your doctor and health department to limit your lead exposure. Your doctor may retest your child in 1-3 months to make sure the level does not go up.
  • A lead level over 44 is a very high level and may require treatment at the hospital.
  • Click here for this information in chart form.

I know children are impacted by lead, but what about adults?

A healthy adult has a lower risk of health problems from a small amount of lead. But if you work with lead, or have been drinking unfiltered water, you should have blood tests to make sure you aren't getting too much in your body.

What is the lead risk for pregnant/nursing women?

Pregnant women can pass lead on to their developing baby. That can cause a premature birth, smaller baby, learning difficulties in the child and slower growth. Breastfeeding mothers who test positive for lead can continue to breastfeed, as long as their blood lead level doesn't go above 40 ug/dl or their level isn't greater than 20 ug/dl and their baby has a level above 5 ug/dl. At that point they should talk with their doctor. 

How can I get water and water supplies if I don't have transportation?

The Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) has developed bus stops at the city of Flint fire stations for easy access to water supplies. Residents using the bus service for that purpose will not be charged a bus fare. If you are home bound, or for other reasons cannot get to the water resource stations, call 2-1-1. Or call 810-257-3600, 24 hours a day and a Genesee County Sheriff's dispatcher will arrange a delivery to your home.

Where else is lead in my home?

  • If your home was built before 1978, you may have lead paint inside and outside.
  • Before 1996 gas and exhaust from cars contained lead. That means dirt in busy traffic areas may contain the metal.
  • Dust in your home may contain tiny particles of lead from the paint and dirt in and around your home.

What about my pets?

You should use filtered water to fill your pet's bowls. It is OK to use unfiltered water to give your pet a bath.

What can I do to lessen the impact of lead exposure?

Be aware of your environment and do your best to remove any potential lead contaminants. It is also important to eat well. People who eat a healthy diet are less effected by lead in the body than someone with poor diet habits. Foods high in iron, calcium and vitamin C protect the body from lead. Also be aware that the body absorbs lead easier on an empty stomach. The EPA also recommends cleaning out the aerators, or the screen on the tip of your faucet, at least once a week. Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to do that. Also, flush your hot water tank to remove sediments.

If I live outside of Flint, am I affected?

The City of Flint has identified 200+ addresses outside of the city limits that are on the Flint water system. Residents living at these addresses should be taking the proper precautions, including using bottled water. A list of the addresses can be found here.

Do the pipes leading to my house need to be replaced?

The Department of Environmental Quality says replacing all the lead lines in Flint may not be necessary. Instead, the plan is to use phosphate to build a protective layer between water and lead inside the existing pipes. Click here for more. To learn more about the phosphates being added to Flint's water, click here. Mayor Karen Weaver is calling for all the pipes in Flint to be replaced as part of her Fast Start program. Weaver wants lead pipes to be replaced starting the week of Feb. 22. Click here for more.

What does this mean for fishing?

Click here for the Michigan Department of Community Health's Eat Safe Fish Guide.

Where can I get my bottled recycled? 

You have a few options. You can called the Flint Sanitation Department 800-858-0089 and have your recycling picked up with your trash. You can also have curbside pick up from Republic Services. There's even a local shop that is using discarded bottles to make greenhouses. Check them all out here.

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