For the third consecutive year, Flint water is testing below state and federal action levels for lead, according to data the state released on Wednesday.
In the first half of 2016, at the height of the city’s water crisis, Flint’s 90th percentile result for lead-in-water samples was 20 parts per billion.
In the first half of 2019, it was six parts per billion. And that’s with new, more stringent state testing requirements, that include taking a fifth water sample to more accurately measure the effect on water that may spend time sitting in lead service lines.
Scott Dean, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, says that after some initial issues with Flint’s testing procedures back in June, the state confirmed Flint’s testing results after the city submitted additional sampling documentation in September.
Dean says the city tested 61 “Tier 1” sites—those with lead pipes or service lines. The raw results of those samples ranged from 0-41 parts per billion.
“Things appear to be very stable now, based on three years of monitoring data,” Dean says. “Flint’s water now, according to the data, is testing at a level that makes it among some of the best water in the state, in terms of the numbers that we’re seeing.”
Flint appears to be on schedule to replace all of its lead water service lines by the end of this year, per a lawsuit settlement.
Elin Betanzo, an engineer and certified water operator who played a role in unraveling and revealing Flint’s water crisis, says even if the overall results are good, there’s still room for concern if even a small percentage of homes is showing high lead levels. There is no safe level of lead, a potent neurotoxin.
“We often hear that something is going on in that individual home—but we sample to know what people are drinking. We sample to get the highest-risk homes,” Betanzo says. “That means there are probably other homes that meet that criteria that have similar levels of lead in their water.”
“A single high level means there’s some number of homes that have those conditions. We just haven’t identified those homes.”