'Swiss cheese pattern' confirms cause of Flint water crisis - WNEM TV 5

'Swiss cheese pattern' confirms cause of Flint water crisis

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Backscattered electron images of a cross-section of thelayer of metal scale, or rust, inside pipe samples from lead service lines in Flint, Michigan. The outside of the pipe is on the left side, and the holes in the “Swiss cheese pattern” are voids where Backscattered electron images of a cross-section of thelayer of metal scale, or rust, inside pipe samples from lead service lines in Flint, Michigan. The outside of the pipe is on the left side, and the holes in the “Swiss cheese pattern” are voids where
Backscattered electron images of a cross-section of the layer of metal scale, or rust, inside pipe samples from lead service lines in Flint, Michigan. (Credit: Brian Ellis) Backscattered electron images of a cross-section of the layer of metal scale, or rust, inside pipe samples from lead service lines in Flint, Michigan. (Credit: Brian Ellis)
FLINT, MI (WNEM) -

Researchers say a new study is providing the first concrete evidence of how the Flint water crisis was caused. 

The study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan, showed a “Swiss cheese pattern” in the lead service lines of Flint’s damaged drinking water system. The pattern could be seen inside the pipes with holes where the lead used to be.

"We estimated how much lead was 'missing' in order to bring the Flint lead scale into line with the amount of aluminum and magnesium that was reported in other communities," said Terese Olson, a U-M associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and lead author of a study in Environmental Science and Technology Letters. "That missing lead represents what was leached from the pipes during the Flint corrosion episode."

The findings are direct evidence that lead attached to the pipelines because the water wasn’t treated to prevent corrosion.

For the study, a team of researchers focused on lead rust inside 10 service line samples around the Vehicle City. They looked at the texture of the rust and tested for chemicals.

Olson said the data showed an average lead service line released 18 grams of lead during the 17 months that Flint river water flowed through the system without corrosion control.

"This is the amount of lead that would have entered a single home," Olson said. "If we average that release over the entire period the city received Flint River water, it would suggest that on average, the lead concentration would be at least twice the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion."

Researchers said some of the lead was consumed, some washed down the drain and some might still be stored in the plumbing of Flint homes.

“In other words, there is a chance that some of that lead is a potential health risk even after the lead service line is removed,” Olson said.

Earlier this year, a regulator claimed corrosion control chemicals wouldn’t have prevented the water crisis.

Researchers said, however, the study’s results contradict that claim and show how important corrosion chemicals are for aging water systems. 

To read more about the study, click here

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