This post will be different than my usual post. Let’s just say that it has to do with quackery of a different kind than I usually write about here. It’s about a public health disaster that was entirely preventable and had nothing to do with vaccines. It has to do with government malpractice on an epic scale, right here in my very own state. It’s a story that’s huge here in Michigan but doesn’t seem to be penetrating the national news very much, at least not yet. I suspect that my international readers, most of whom are likely unaware of this story, will have to pick their jaws up off the ground at the shock that any government could exercise such epic incompetence and in the process potentially harm so many children, but my state government did just that last year.

I was born and raised in Detroit. My parents didn’t move to the suburbs until I was ten years old, and I stayed in southeast Michigan until I graduated from medical school and ended up in Cleveland. From there I bounced to Chicago and New Jersey and, twenty years after I left my hometown, back in the Detroit area. The point of this story is that my roots in the Detroit area run deep. Michigan is my state, for better or for worse, which is why I get annoyed when bad things happen here, such as when a local “holistic doctor” spews antivaccine nonsense, when one of our state legislators tries to make vaccine exemptions easier to get, or when attempts are made to license naturopathic quackery. I particularly become outraged when a preventable tragedy occurs here, one that science told us how to prevent but the government went ahead and did anyway. It’s a horrific tale of how science-based medicine was ignored in favor of saving money—and not even that much money.

That’s why I’m really pissed now over the mass poisoning of children with lead in the city of Flint, which is only about an hour from my house. What’s particularly galling about what happened is that it could have been prevented. Most people outside of Michigan who’ve even heard of Flint at all have probably seen it featured in Michael Moore’s movie, Roger and Me, which explored the effects of GM’s closing several auto plants in Flint, Michigan. Basically, if you think Detroit’s been bad over the last 20-30 years, Flint has been much worse. Now, I realize that there are probably a lot of you who don’t like Michael Moore. I’m not that fond of him myself, but his movie did a good job of exploring just how messed up Flint was. It still is.

As a result of its longstanding financial problems, in 2011 Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager of the city’s finances. Michigan has a law that allows the governor to appoint an Emergency Financial Manager to take control of a local financial unit, such as a city or a school district after a review finds the unit’s financial situation is deemed precarious enough that a financial emergency exists. Emergency managers have broad, some would say undemocratic, powers to reorganize departments, reduce pay, modify employee contracts, and outsource work. Detroit was just under the control of an emergency manager who filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy, a process that went surprisingly well, all things considering. The same can’t be said of Flint. It went through five emergency managers over the last four years, although two of them were the same. First it was Michael Brown. Then it was Ed Kurtz. Then it was Michael Brown again. Then it was Darnell Earley. Then it was Jerry Ambrose. The names, however, aren’t important. What they did is.

This is the disaster I’m referring to:

Flint’s drinking water became contaminated with lead in 2014 after switching its supply source from Lake Huron to the more polluted and corrosive Flint River. The move — a cost-cutting measure while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager — resulted in a spike in lead levels in children, which causes permanent brain damage. A recent preliminary report from a task force appointed by Snyder placed most of the blame on the state Department of Environmental Quality and prompted the Dec. 29 resignation of DEQ Director Dan Wyant.

What happened? There were higher concentrations of salt in Flint River water, which led to corrosion of the lead welds in the copper pipes that carried the water to the city. Detroit’s less corrosive water had flowed through the pipes for decades without a problem, but it didn’t take long after the switch was made in April 2014 for elevated lead content to be noticed. Why was the switch made? Here the story gets a bit complicated. In 2010, the Flint City Council voted to join the new Karegnondi Water Authority. Construction of a pipeline from Lake Huron to Flint was begun and is scheduled to be completed in 2016. In April 2014, the emergency manager switched from purchasing treated Lake Huron water from Detroit, as it had done for 50 years, to getting water from the Flint River as a temporary measure until the pipeline was completed. The reason? When Flint joined the Karegnondi Water Authority, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department terminated its 35-year contract with the city. To continue to purchase Detroit water, Flint would have to renegotiate a short-term contract, at a higher cost. Basically, switching to river water saved Flint between $5 million and $7 million a year. That’s why the emergency manager did it.

As can be seen in this handy time line, report, and overview, residents almost immediately started complaining about the “bad water,” saying that it was causing skin problems, including rashes and hair loss. Others complained of a foul odor and cloudiness. (The switch was made in in April 2014, and by June there were stories about it in the local press.) By October a GM engine plant announced that it would stop using Flint River water. By January 2015, the University of Michigan-Flint had found that some samples on campus were high in lead. In February, it was reported that one home in Flint had water with a lead content of 104 ppb, compared to 15 ppb, the EPA safe limit for drinking water. More reports followed, and in April 2015, a Flint resident named Lee Anne Walters discovered that her child had lead poisoning. By June, a leaked memo revealed the EPA’s concern about elevated lead levels.

As is often the case in these sorts of situations, city officials denied that the water was unsafe, although they issued a notice that the levels of of trihaolomethanes (TTHM), a group of four chemicals formed as a byproduct of water disinfection, were too high. It got to the point where avoiding tap water became a way of life in Flint. Meanwhile, in September, Virginia Tech University researchers led by Marc Edwards tested water samples from 300 Flint homes and found high lead levels throughout the city. One sample was as high as 13,200 ppb. By way of comparison, the EPA considers water with 5,000 ppb lead to be hazardous waste. Not long after that, Flint pediatricians found that the percentage of children with elevated lead in their blood had doubled, from 2.1% before the switch to 4%. By October, Genesee County declared a public health emergency, and the City of Flint developed plans to distribute thousands of water filters. Finally, in October, Flint reconnected to Detroit water. Ultimately, several Flint residents filed a class action lawsuit, and in December the new mayor, Karen Weaver, declared a state of emergency, declaring that the elevated lead levels had caused irreversible damage to the health of the children of the city. And, finally, long after he should have done it, earlier this week Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency as well:

Now here’s the kicker. Apparently the state knew months before it did anything:

Six months before Michigan’s governor declared a state of emergency over high lead levels in the water in Flint, his top aide wrote in an email that worried residents were “basically getting blown off by us.”

“I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint,” Dennis Muchmore, then chief of staff to Gov. Rick Snyder, wrote in the email to a top health department staffer obtained by NBC News.

“I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving,” Muchmore said.

Why those DEQ officials took the actions they did is a question at the center of a tragedy that has left an unknown number of children and other Flint residents poisoned by lead, and has led to a federal lawsuit and calls for a U.S. Justice Department investigation. The questions surrounding the testing are in addition to the broader question of why Flint, which was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager at the time, switched its drinking water source, starting in April 2014, from Lake Huron water supplied by Detroit to the much more polluted and corrosive water from the Flint River.

And:

Lead levels in Flint’s drinking water would have spurred action months sooner if the results of city testing that wrapped up in June had not been revised by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to wrongly indicate the water was safe to drink, e-mails show.

The records — obtained by the Michigan ACLU and by Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who helped raise concerns about Flint’s water — show how state officials first appear to have encouraged the City of Flint to find water samples with low lead levels and later told Flint officials to disqualify two samples with high readings. The move changed the overall lead level results to acceptable from unacceptable.

That’s right. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality manipulated the samples tested for lead to eliminate the samples with the highest concentration and thereby produce the result that it wanted: The appearance that the water was safe. It’s true that Flint was in bad financial shape. It’s debatable that its financial situation was helped by Governor Snyder appointing a series of his cronies to run the city, one of whom caused this catastrophe in his desire to save money. His successors perpetuated the damage.

Here’s the even bigger kicker. Even using the Flint River water, the City of Flint could have prevented the corrosion of its copper and lead pipes relatively inexpensively:

Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech who has been testing Flint water, says treatment could have corrected much of the problem early on — for as little as $100 a day — but officials in the city of 100,000 people didn’t take action.

“There is no question that if the city had followed the minimum requirements under federal law that none of this would have happened,” said Edwards, who obtained the Muchmore email through a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request.

One hundred dollars a day would equal a mere $36,500 a year, a pittance in a budget of millions. To save $36,500 a year or maybe a little more, the city failed to treat the Flint River water, leaving it corrosive and able to leach lead and copper from the aging pipes used to transport it. As a consequence, an as yet unknown number of children have been poisoned with lead, which is most damaging to the developing brain. This can result in developmental delay, decreased IQ, decreased hearing, and ADHD. There will be behavioral problems. Lead exposure has even been linked to violent crime. Flint will be paying for this ecological disaster for decades. They’re still paying financially now. It’s not even clear whether the switch back to Detroit water (from Lake Huron) is in time.

Here’s what’s depressing. This is all straightforward science. We know what levels of lead are safe and what levels are not. We know what the effects of lead poisoning are in children. We know how to prevent them. Chemists specializing in water purification know that corrosive water placed in old copper and lead pipes will leach lead and copper out of them. They even know how to treat the water to prevent this leaching! Yet that wasn’t done, all to save a trivial amount of money.

It’s hard for me to think of an example of such an epic public health failure on the part of a state government, much less Michigan’s. I’m not sure I’m willing to go quite as far as Michael Moore, who is demanding the arrest of Governor Snyder (that might change; it’s not clear yet what Snyder knew and when), but I agree that heads need to roll and politicians need to be held accountable. I don’t see that happening—yet. Sure, there’ve been some resignations of sacrificial lambs, but no one really in power has yet been held accountable. I fear that no one will be. Even now, Gov. Snyder is doing his best to dodge questions about the debacle.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Preston
    January 8, 2016

    Heads should roll.

  2. #2 MI Dawn
    January 8, 2016

    Oh Michigan, my Michigan.

    This really makes me sad to read. I don’t usually watch the news, so can’t say if it hit any stations around here, Orac.

    But it’s so hard to believe that government officials would put children at such risk…except that’s par for the course for the party in control. Once children are born, who cares about them?

  3. #3 MikeMa
    January 8, 2016

    Various comments on FB this morning. Most calling for the Gov to be arrested for murder. Some wishing the government had targeted Muslim communities only. FB can truly be a cesspool.

  4. #4 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    No doubt. Michael Moore called for the governor to be arrested, but I left that out because, well, it’s Michael Moore. OTOH, heads do need to roll, and it is quite possible that Snyder’s delay in acting could be interpreted as a criminally negligent act. I don’t think Moore is entirely wrong on this. Clearly, though, heads do need to roll. One thing he points out is that the Flint River is also polluted due to GM and other industries having dumped there for years.

    http://michaelmoore.com/ArrestGovSnyder

  5. #5 Michael Finfer, MD
    Edison, NJ
    January 8, 2016

    Given the e-mail from the governor’s chief of staff, certainly a move to recall or impeach him would be appropriate. I am not so sure about criminal charges.

    I would save the criminal proceedings for the local officials who caused the crisis and the individual at the department of health who manipulated the data.

  6. #6 MikeMa
    January 8, 2016

    I am in agreement with Michael Finfer that the governor may have plausible deniability just like Christie in his NJ over Bridgegate. Especially if his staff can be targeted more easily, directly and cheaply.

    The idea of impeachment, while appealing, rarely succeeds. Walker survived.

  7. #7 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    One guy who needs to be arrested is Darnell Earley. He made the decision to switch over to Flint River water and then stonewalled when problems started to come to light. He’s denying that it was his decision, and maybe he’s right, but there’s no doubt that he stonewalled and denied there was a problem as evidence mounted that there was an environmental and public health disaster in progress.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/10/ex_emergency_manager_earley_sa.html

    It was he who refused the offer by Detroit to continue to sell water to Flint. In January 2015, after problems were utterly obvious, Earley was quoted as saying Flint would not switch back to Detroit water because it would cost $12 million to do.

  8. #8 Chris Hickie
    January 8, 2016

    Current pediatric preventive health guidelines no longer mandate lead level testing in infants and children if screening questions indicate low risk for lead exposure. Along comes a travesty like this, where trust in what should be is shaken, and I feel like the mandate should be reinstated.

  9. #9 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    My wife is a pediatric NP in Detroit. So she practices in a high risk environment and does test infants and children for lead. I note that Flint was also already considered a high risk environment because of all the poverty and old buildings; so I’m guessing pediatricians there were already routinely testing children for lead.

  10. #10 JP
    January 8, 2016

    Anti-Muslim sentiment in Michigan of all places makes me sick to my stomach.

    I mean, just sayin’. Who really even made this place, in a way, huh?

    I mean, besides, like, Henry Ford. He was a little too automatic for his own good, sometimes, I’d say. All that Taylorism stuff; bad news, really.

  11. #11 janet
    where Walker still roams free
    January 8, 2016

    Walker may have survived. The fate of the state is still debatable.
    I saw this story a couple of days ago, and rage doesn’t even begin to cover it.

  12. #12 Daniel Corcos
    January 8, 2016

    Heads did roll during the french revolution, but now in France similar situations are quite frequent and we do not have any good translation for the word “accountability”.

  13. #13 darwinslapdog
    The Beagle
    January 8, 2016

    I’m with Michael Moore on this one. Unless the Gov is ultimately held accountable in a very serious way, this will be entirely forgotten very quickly.

  14. #14 doug
    January 8, 2016

    One sample was as high as 13,200 ppb.

    That is quite beyond my comprehension. It sounds extraordinarily high as a concentration, but is astounding if looked at in terms of absolute quantity.
    13 ppm is 13 mg per litre, or 13 grams per cubic metre. A small household is likely to use at least 5 cubic metres of water per month, which would translate to 65 grams (about 1/7 of a pound, for those who like archaic units of measure), or nearly 6 cubic centimetres of lead per month. That is a HUGE amount of lead. It is inconceivable to me that that amount of lead could come from solid lead pipes for very long without the pipes simply disintegrating. It certainly couldn’t be coming from solder joints on copper pipe. That concentration might show up in a sample of water that had been sitting stagnant in pipes for some time if the pipe had a coating of lead-bearing scale that was being quite rapidly dissolved to due a change in water pH. If I had anything to do with the testing, I’d have the source of that particular sample under very close scrutiny.
    Adding phosphates might be effective in passivation of bare metal pipes, but I doubt if it would do much to slow dissolution of contaminated scale. Any experts here?

  15. #15 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    Oh, it’s clear that there was some epic incompetence here. It’s not clear how that sample had such a high concentration. Most of them weren’t anywhere near that high, but definitely considerably higher than what the EPA considers safe.

  16. #16 Chris Hickie
    January 8, 2016

    @ Orac #9–Angers me that kids get to be the canaries for this (and be hurt the most by it). The hard part with the lead testing has always been getting parents to get to the lab for the blood draw, but a POC lead tester is now available as last summer. I am going to look into it.

  17. #17 Eric Lund
    January 8, 2016

    I agree with others who said that Snyder himself appears to have plausible deniability. But there are definitely some heads that need to roll. Definitely in the DEQ–whoever ordered the falsification of test results should go to jail over that.

    BTW, the Michael Brown who served twice as the emergency manager of Flint is not the Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown who was head of FEMA during the Bush 43 administration–Wikipedia says that the latter was a radio talk show host in Denver during the period in question. The name caught my eye, but coincidences do happen.

  18. #18 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    The head of the DEQ did resign (was probably fired). But that’s definitely not enough.

  19. #19 Andreas Johansson
    January 8, 2016

    Most people outside of Michigan who’ve even heard of Flint at all have probably seen it featured in Michael Moore’s movie

    Near as I recall, I first heard of Flint in a newspaper article that listed as the three worst places to live in the US as, in descending order, Detroit, Flint, and Rockford (IL). It stuck in my mind because I was in Rockford – the parts of which I saw didn’t look particularly bad – at the time.

    Something I often wonder when politicians try to keep the lid on something, don’t they realize that trying to do so also comes as a cost? Long before the lawsuits are done more money will have been spent on litigation than what the switch saved. What’s the best-case scenario they’re hoping for – nobody, in America, suing over a little thing like lead poisoning?

  20. #20 Ruth/STL
    January 8, 2016

    The people responsible should be given the Flint water by gavage until they confess. Republicans like waterboarding-do it with caustic Flint river water.

    White suburban kids must be protected from minute amounts of heavy metal in vaccines, but inner city kids can be given seriously high doses of lead to save money. But of course there is no racism/class-ism in ‘merica.

    Feeling very sad for our country.

  21. #21 Michelle
    St. Louis
    January 8, 2016

    Rachel Maddow started covering this story almost nightly about 2 weeks ago. Her doggedness finally got the attention of the folks at the mother ship, and NBC was all over this starting yesterday.

    It’s shocking that it took so long for this to become a national story,especially since lead poisoning is known (scientifically demonstrated, unlike other, ahem, “causes” of developmental problems) to cause developmental delays. One of the first things our pediatrician did when we raised concerns about developmental delays in our girls was to get them tested for lead, even though they had no known exposure.

    Question for the experts out there: would chelation, or any other treatments, help these kids at all, or is the damage irreversible?

  22. #22 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    It’s good that Rachel Maddow is covering it, but even she missed the boat for many months. The complaints about the water began over a year and a half ago, and we’ve known almost a year that there was definitely a problem. By spring, it was known that there were elevated lead levels in Flint city water. It was in October that Genesee County declared a public health emergency. So I’m glad that this story is finally getting national play, but for a long time it was just a local story.

    Worse, for an even longer time, emergency managers appointed by Governor Snyder, along with city, county, and state officials, denied there was a problem.

  23. #23 David Whitlock
    January 8, 2016

    People need to go to jail over this.

    These are clear and deliberate violations of law and over extended periods of time.

    How about charge the managers who oversaw this with 100,000 counts of assault? Of reckless endangerment?

  24. #24 Michael J. Dochniak
    Iowa
    January 8, 2016

    Orac writes,

    When Flint joined the Karegnondi Water Authority, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department terminated its 35-year contract with the city. To continue to purchase Detroit water, Flint would have to renegotiate a short-term contract, at a higher cost.

    MJD says,

    From this description, it appears the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department was a catalyst in this disaster and therefore must share in the blame.

  25. #25 doug
    January 8, 2016

    @Michelle – check the Wikipedia article on lead poisoning as a good starting place.
    It is going to cost a veritable fortune to treat all the people who have be exposed. If treatments are started promptly, as they should be, for the very large number of people who will require it, it will probably put a considerable strain on healthcare facilities and it wouldn’t surprise me if if lead (don’t smack me, please) to at least temporary shortages in chelating preparations – there’s nothing very exotic about them, but there have been shortages of things as mundane as ordinary saline solutions in recent history.

  26. #26 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    @MJD: Not sure about this. My understanding is that when Flint announced its intention to switch over to the Karegnondi Water Authority it basically voided its long term contract with Detroit, which was perfectly willing to enter into a short term contract to replace it, but at a higher cost. There were other issues as well, from what I understand. In any case, the cost of continuing to buy Detroit water (which comes from Lake Huron) for two more years will now be dwarfed by the costs of fixing this mess and dealing with what will no doubt be many lawsuits and prosecutions, as well as the cost of treating who knows how many thousands of children for lead poisoning.

    Certainly, the story coming from the governor and emergency manager at the time was that Detroit “left us no choice,” but that’s not really true. There was a choice. The emergency manager chose to cheap it out.

  27. #27 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    January 8, 2016

    @MJD

    Without knowing more details about the contracts involved, my suspicion is along the lines of what Orac notes: that the decision to change suppliers voided the contract that Flint had with Detroit. Now, if Detroit was going to hike their fees unreasonably, thus prompting Flint to reevaluate the arrangement, then your argument might have something to it (but again, we’d need more details).

    @Orac,

    Are there any other towns that get their water from the Flint River? Is Flint the only one having these problems, or are there other, smaller towns that just haven’t gained media attention yet?

  28. #28 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    As far as I know, it’s just Flint. I could be mistaken, however. Interestingly, there are some fairly affluent semi-rural “exurbs” of Detroit near Flint.

    Also, if I’m correct, one would think that the city manager should have known that switching suppliers would void the contract with Detroit and account for the potential short term increase in costs caused by that.

  29. #29 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    Also, it gets more complex more recently. As a result of the Detroit bankruptcy, the Detroit Water Authority was taken over by the Great Lakes Water Authority, which now manages water and sewage for the tri-county area as of January 1.

    http://www.detroitmi.gov/How-Do-I/Great-Lakes-Water-Authority
    http://www.glwater.org

  30. #30 Michael J. Dochniak
    Iowa
    January 8, 2016

    An article from Michigan Live dated Feb 20th, 2015

    Veolia Vice President Rob Nicholas said this week that Flint’s water is safe — based on meeting state and federal standards — but said improvements in hardness and other areas are possible.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/02/see_initial_water_quality_repo.html

    Veolia North America Consultants:

    http://www.veolianorthamerica.com/en/about-us/about-us

  31. […] story has been building up in my timeline for a while. But today, Orac has a thorough post on how the Flint, Michigan government poisoned children with lead in their water. You really should […]

  32. #32 rork
    Ann Arbor
    January 8, 2016

    “Yet that wasn’t done, all to save a trivial amount of money.” I’m not expert but my impression was that a great deal of incompetence was involved – like simply not testing enough and not realizing how much to worry about altered water being able to leach lead more. I sure didn’t know about such things. The folks running Flints water are supposed to be expert – but it appears they were incompetent. I bet they would gladly have spent the extra $100/day, but were insufficiently aware. We weren’t even following national water supply type requirements, according to things I heard on NPR (who had interviews with a guy I figure was Marc Edwards).

  33. #33 dean
    January 8, 2016

    We visited in-laws in Georgia over Thanksgiving. The husband is a civil engineer specializing in designing water treatment plants and water quality work. He had just been to a local conference where the Flint story was discussed. This

    The records — obtained by the Michigan ACLU and by Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who helped raise concerns about Flint’s water — show how state officials first appear to have encouraged the City of Flint to find water samples with low lead levels and later told Flint officials to disqualify two samples with high readings. The move changed the overall lead level results to acceptable from unacceptable.

    was specifically discussed, with the take-away comment being

    Anyone who does this should be fired as soon as it is found out.

    Apparently there was a great deal of outrage among the attendees about how the Michigan DEQ bungled this.

  34. #34 has
    dangling from the humorous end of the gallows
    January 8, 2016

    Looking on the bright side, the Michigan Tea Party should do extremely well in 2028…

  35. #35 Orac
    January 8, 2016

    Hey. That’s around the time when I’ll be getting very close to retirement…

  36. #36 Gilbert
    January 8, 2016

    In a little nowhere town
    Way out deep in the woods
    Sits a little lonely factory
    Makin’ household goods
    With a little nothin’ river
    Flowin’ by their back door
    You won’t find any fishin’
    There ain’t no fish in there no more

    And the sign said,
    Don’t drink the water
    Don’t wade in the pool
    No, don’t come here at all
    And the people said,
    You drank the water?
    There’s nothing we can do
    There’s no one we can call…

    — Planet P, Pinkworld

  37. #37 Calli Arcale
    http://fractalwonder.wordpress.com
    January 8, 2016

    Michelle:

    Question for the experts out there: would chelation, or any other treatments, help these kids at all, or is the damage irreversible?

    I’m pretty much the opposite of an expert, but as nobody else has answered, I’ll take a stab. I believe the damage is irreversible; however, chelation can stop it getting worse.

  38. #38 TBruce
    January 8, 2016

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkerton_E._coli_outbreak

    A similar tragedy occurred in Walkerton Ontario, when run-off from a farm contaminated a groundwater source for the town’s water supply. The contaminant was E. coli O157:H7, a particularly harmful type of this bacteria. Ultimately, 7 people died as a result.
    The managers of the water supply were found negligent and received relatively short jail sentences by way of plea bargains. The provincial government at the time was blamed for its cost-cutting measures.
    As in this case, the amount spent dealing with the mess was far greater than any cost savings achieved. It’s penny wise and pound foolish to scrimp on public health.

  39. #39 Jenora Feuer
    January 8, 2016

    Reminds me of the Walkerton E. Coli outbreak in Ontario, which also had upper levels of government dumping test requirements because they were too expensive, nepotism in appointments to the water management facilities, and deliberate stonewalling as the actual scale of the problem started to become clear…

  40. #40 Jenora Feuer
    January 8, 2016

    Hunh, ninja’d by a matter of seconds.

  41. #41 Chris Hickie
    January 8, 2016

    Tucson, AZ had a time before I lived here in ’94 when they used Central AZ Project Colorado River water for the municipal supple and when it first got here it was brown and rancid coming out of faucets. People were very angry and it was fixed, but still makes me worry. This is where, if you can afford it, you get an R-O system for your drinking water.

  42. #42 Delphine
    January 8, 2016

  43. #43 rs
    January 8, 2016

    “the amount spent dealing with the mess was far greater than any cost savings achieved”

    It’s important to follow the rules of political calculus to understand the math. Politician cuts costs, and uses this triumph to ride off to bigger and better things, while his successor deals with the true cost.

    Timing is a critical variable in political calculus and politicians aren’t always good at math. So the cost may hit sooner than they planned.

  44. #44 Gemman Aster
    January 8, 2016

    There was a not dissimilar event that occurred in Cornwall at the end of the 1980’s.

    The water supply for much of Camelford was poisoned when an incompetent transport driver blew his load of aluminium sulphate in to the reservoir containing ‘finished’ drinking water instead of the proper storage tank. In almost exactly the same way as with Flint the heavy metals and contaminates were stripped from pipes and delivered to totally unsuspecting victims. The companies and councils involved attempted to cover it up, advising those who complained of the taste of their supply to mix it with fruit juice in order to mask the flavor… What is more, almost 30 years later the mealy-mouthed, venal denialism still continues in the highest levels of ‘our’ bloated and utterly corrupt Tory government. This despite the recent death in 2012 of an acknowledged victim and the Coroner’s resulting re-examination and intense condemnation of the entire farrago.

  45. #45 Eric Lund
    January 8, 2016

    rs@43: The MBA mentality operates on the same principle. Will this course of action maximize the bottom line this quarter? Then do it. Who cares that it will force a substantial liability on the company five years from now? By that time, I’ll be gone and you’ll be gone, and our successors get to deal with the mess.

    This is one reason why I automatically distrust any politician who advocates running government like a business. For every such politician who would do a proper job of it, there are hundreds if not thousands who would run government like a certain business called Enron.

  46. #46 Delphine
    January 8, 2016

    I’ll take “Let’s Bust A Nut On MBAs This Week At RI” for a thousand, Alex.

  47. #47 rs
    January 8, 2016

    Eric, it isn’t an MBA mentality, it’s nothing more than a human tendency. Most of us have it under control while others see it as a tool to accelerate their life goals. I spent a portion of my career as a middle manager in a multi-national corporation and saw this across the spectrum, including engineers, admin staff, corporate officers and directors, and, yes, even some MBAs.

    Political calculus is about politics, not just Politics. That’s why every form of human organization requires checks and balances. Regulations (with teeth) has a role in this, though there has been a swing away from that, globally, back toward laissez-faire. It’ll eventually swing back, though not without leaving behind a trail strewn with bodies.

  48. #48 JustaTech
    January 8, 2016

    I feel so, so bad for the kids in Flint. Talk about getting kicked while you’re down. Major poverty, plus the health consequences of that, plus brain damage that will make it even harder for them to move up or move away?

    It’s so callous it’s beyond Dickensian.

  49. #49 Kiiri
    January 8, 2016

    This debacle was covered in the online world but in the more progressive news outlets such as Daily Kos, Think Progress, and others. It was major national news that had not picked it up. I happen to really love Michael Moore, his films are fantastic, and he is a tireless advocate for his community. He isn’t wrong either. In this situations it is usually a few as Orac said sacrificial lambs who get sent out for slaughter and everyone else walks away. At some point the buck stopped at the governor. I really hate the fact that everyone wants to play the ‘how much did they know’ card. I doubt he didn’t know what was going on when the DEQ head has already walked. In my own current state the governor has packed the top leadership positions of every state agency with his handpicked cronies. And to be sure they are answering to political and corporate cronies and in no sense are they interested in protecting the people from anything. If they could keep covering it up in MI and getting away with it they would have. It makes me ill to think that children are ultimately going to pay the price for this stupidity. And I imagine those in charge will lose far more sleep worrying about their political careers than about the ruined health of these children.

  50. #50 Politicalguineapig
    January 8, 2016

    Justatech: It’s so callous it’s beyond Dickensian.

    I don’t expect much of Republicans anywhere, but this is still a massive new low. Didn’t anyone bother to test the water? Or did they do this deliberately? (Frankly, I wonder if it wasn’t the latter.)

  51. #51 Ray Kinney
    Deadwood, OR
    January 8, 2016

    I have been following the research on the toxicology of lead for a long time, and have a few comments that might help clarify so additional risk from skin exposure to lead, since these children also were exposed during water contact during baths and showers. It used to be thought that lead did not pass through skin significantly because it did not commonly then show up as blood lead in the standard testing done for public health screening. In 1994, Jennifer Stauber, Brian Guison, and others wrote a paper describing research they did that indicated that lead did pass through skin fairly readily but did not show up as much increased blood lead, for some unknown reason. Since then, other researchers (Filon et.al. 2006, and Sun, C-C et al. 2002) found similar results about the percutaneous exposures of lead. Some of their work also suggested that some commonly used soaps fascilitated the movement into rather than away from the body, and that it was most important to avoid exposure rather than rely on washing.

  52. #52 Ray Kinney
    January 8, 2016

    Lead levels in these children may have risen even beyond the levels that will be indicated by simply testing for blood lead. So sad.

  53. #53 Ray Kinney
    January 8, 2016

    Most state agencies responsible for water quality are staffed by the best intentioned people, but the political arm of the agency is heavily constrained by their regulators (the legislators) that are unsupportive of water quality monitoring with integrity because the politicians see water sampling and assessment as being politically and fiscally subversive. They only allow forced monitoring or only ‘busy work’ monitoring that has little chance of finding important further impairments of beneficial use or public health risks.

  54. #54 Ray Kinney
    January 8, 2016

    The state legislators are responsible for all of this, by appointing or hiring only people that will respond to the politic rather than to the science, or the wellbeing of society concerning public health.IMHO

  55. #55 Marc
    January 8, 2016

    Clearly this is a travesty, and the governor definitely needs to be named in the class action and probably deserves impeachment. But bringing it back to the normal threads of this blog: we can at least be thankful the Flint contamination wasn’t additive to the toxic thimerosol load of the vaccine schedule.

    Sorry–I’m the kind of guy that laughs so I don’t cry.

  56. #56 Mrs Woo
    Rural Pennsylvania
    January 8, 2016

    When I first moved to Missouri I got quarterly notifications from my water provider letting me know they had exceeded the EPA recommended level for trihalomethanes the previous three months and that they were known carcinogens and should be avoided. Closing paragraph told us the notice was per EPA regs.

    I suspect that most of the government isn’t terribly interested in our health, which seems rather short-sighted to me.

    This situation in Flint is reprehensible. Increasingly it seems like human costs are not considered when politicians make decisions.

  57. #57 Politicalguineapig
    January 9, 2016

    Ray Kinney:
    The state legislators are responsible for all of this, by appointing or hiring only people that will respond to the politic rather than to the science, or the wellbeing of society concerning public health.IMHO

    Politicians these days aren’t much concerned with science, and in fact many of them are suspicious of anyone who holds a graduate degree or is convinced the Earth is round.

  58. […] By now you’ve probably heard of Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder’s serial missteps that led to toxic levels of lead in part of that state’s water supply. Here’s a take from Orac, a political independent who grew up nearby: […]

  59. #59 Michael J. Dochniak
    Iowa
    January 9, 2016

    PGP says (#57),

    Politicians these days aren’t much concerned with science, and in fact many of them are suspicious of anyone who holds a graduate degree or is convinced the Earth is round.

    MJD says,

    If I suggested to a politician that science has shown that the shape of the earth is an oblate spheroid instead of round they probably wouldn’t care PGP.

    Information overload, and paralysis therefrom, is a
    politician’ s nightmare.

    React then enact, based on empirical evidence, seems to be how politicians behave today….very much like scientists.

    Do you disagree?

    .

  60. #60 Ray Kinney
    Oregon
    January 9, 2016

    Most harm to the wellbeing of society from lead poisoning is done at the chronic low dose accumulative effects level, especially with behavioral effects. As tragic as this series of Flint exposure events is becoming, most politicians (and frankly, most of society) will ‘shrug it off’ pretty quickly… and go back to worrying about the next potential terrorist event. If major events such as Flint can’t jog the collective mind of society toward a much better understanding of toxic contaminant dangers that are ongoing, how are politicians and the rest of society ever going to become responsive to the low dose accumulative toll public health loss that continually degrades society? We poison what we love(with lead) as we go fishing with lead sinkers rolling around in our tackle boxes to contaminate everything we touch and love, yet few think about it enough to make any behavioral changes.

  61. #61 rhymeswithgoalie
    Earth
    January 9, 2016

    BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Water 4.0 by David Sedlak

    This includes a section on the problems with introducing newfangled water treatment to legacy water mains, and how they had to figure out which treatments to use with which pipes (e.g., lead-soldered vs. iron), and tease out the issues of biofilms and chemical leaching.

  62. #62 Gilbert
    January 9, 2016

    the Earth is round

    Actually, PgP #57, Earth is a ‘geoid’ — meaning ‘earth shaped’. It would be hard to go wrong with that description but MJD #59 has a working definition.

    the Earth. Ugg. would you say ‘the mercury’, or ‘the Jupiter’, or ‘the Nibiru’?

  63. #63 Not a Troll
    January 9, 2016

    Asking for trouble in Detroit too?

    Detroit Water Dept. layoffs prompt pollution concerns

    It sounds like they are cutting into the meat of the department not just overage. I always cringe when there is talk of downsizing while maintaining the same quality in corporate America (whether by MBAs or others) and I get the same gut feeling reading politicians saying it.

  64. #64 alison
    January 9, 2016

    This absolutely shameful story has been in the news overseas, Orac – at least, it hit a major NZ daily newspaper a week or so before Christmas. I thought at the time that heads should roll over this. So sad & angry to hear that the incompetence & cover-ups went so deep.

    http://m.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11562551

  65. #65 palindrom
    January 9, 2016

    Marc —

    Sorry–I’m the kind of guy that laughs so I don’t cry.

    Join the club.

  66. #66 Becca
    January 9, 2016

    Meanwhile, in my zip code 20-30% of kids under 6 have more than 5 ug/dL. #Kalamazoo #PureBullpockey

  67. #67 Joseph Hertzlinger
    Planet Earth (for now)
    January 10, 2016

    This is a bit surprising. After all, places with higher concentrations of lead tend to vote Democratic.

  68. #68 Chris
    January 10, 2016

    “After all, places with higher concentrations of lead tend to vote Democratic.”

    Why?

  69. #69 Alain
    January 10, 2016

    Chris,

    /me suspect a Poe…

    Alain

  70. #70 Orac
    January 10, 2016

    No, it strikes me as a very bad and tasteless attempt at political “humor,” methinks. Not funny. Not cool.

  71. #71 Orac
    January 10, 2016
  72. #73 Gilbert
    January 10, 2016

    Orac says,

    There were higher concentrations of salt in Flint River water, which led to corrosion of the lead welds in the copper pipes that carried the water to the city.

    According to a CNN report,
    In Flint, the watermains are made of Iron… and half of the service lines and pipes of flint homes are made of lead.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYR1apmqqQI

    ^^ Not just lead joints but lead pipes. I did not know that was still a thing. When not in Rome, do as the Romans anyways… No, wait.

    Two dissimilar metals in contact with a flowing electrolyte leads to Galvanic corrosion —

    Corrosion inhibitors such as sodium nitrite or sodium molybdate can be injected into these systems to reduce the galvanic potential. However, the application of these corrosion inhibitors must be monitored closely. If the application of corrosion inhibitors increases the conductivity of the water within the system, the galvanic corrosion potential can be greatly increased.

    Acidity or alkalinity (pH) is also a major consideration with regard to closed loop bimetallic circulating systems. Should the pH and corrosion inhibition doses be incorrect, galvanic corrosion will be accelerated.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galvanic_corrosion#Overview

    I can assume that competent employees to do the close monitoring and adjustments could lead to much more than the quoted “hundred dollars a day”.. This is a travesty; Where were the voices of the dang engineers on this? Off touting vaccines?

  73. #74 DLC
    January 10, 2016

    I saw this last month. Shocked to find it’s been going on for as long as it has. Have none of these stupid politicians ever even audited a course in civil engineering, city planning or toxicology ? This is truly some thermonuclear grade stupid.
    oh… and a minor nitpick : in the day Flint’s water system was built, it was cast iron piping that was sweated together with lead-tin alloy plumbers solder. Nobody realized how dangerous lead was back then, and so no one thought of the potential for disaster in using it like they did. Other cities in the east and mid-west have similar problems waiting for them. IMO they need to be replacing extant water piping with welded stainless steel, but that will cost a big bundle that Snyder doesn’t want to spend.

  74. #75 dean
    January 10, 2016

    me suspect a Poe…

    Never underestimate the level of vile in some who inhabit the right (at least here in West Michigan where I live and work). I was eating at the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids a couple weeks ago and the men (in suits, so I assume businessmen) were discussing the water situation in Flint when one of them commented that asking people to purchase bottled water was not a solution due to the large numbers of families who could not afford it. One of the others in the group said

    That doesn’t mean the rest of us should have to pay taxes to help them. The kids in families that can’t afford bottled water will never amount to anything anyway.

  75. #76 Not a Troll
    January 10, 2016

    “Never underestimate the level of vile in some who inhabit the right…”

    Or the left. Or else how would you explain the vile statements I’ve heard from some of them whilst poor. Mean people abound these days and drawing left/right lines only serves to give them cover.

  76. #77 Gilbert
    January 10, 2016

    “Hey… Flint, Michigan. I have been conducting my initial review of your water treatment records. Clearly, we all know this mess you are in is economically driven and not a true water quality crisis. ??So, if its economics, why are you spending as much as $3.00 per person (person not connection) adding Fluoride to the drinking water? Last time I checked Water Treatment professionals weren’t pharmacists… so what’s up? This is an expense you don’t want or need… adding any drug to Drinking Water is a problem… Please spend your resources on cleaning up the Drinking Water and stop pumping out drugs.

    — Erin Brockovich
    http://fluoridealert.org/content/bulletin_04-21-15/

    So maybe you’re on to something when you ask “did they do this deliberately?”, PgP #50. It was certainly no accident they found the money to add the RDA of the industrial waste, hydrofluorosilicic acid, out of concerns for teeth, or something.

  77. #78 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    January 10, 2016

    I am not a civil engineer, so don’t know the answers to these questions regarding the Flint water system.

    1. Could someone have reasonably predicted this outcome before they made the switch of water systems? If so, did someone? If they did, what was done with that prediction?

    2. Once the switch occurred, was monitoring sufficient to pick up the issue in a reasonable time?

    3. The water supply was switched back in October of this year (the problem remains, however). Was there another action that could have been taken?

    Thanks.

  78. #79 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    January 10, 2016

    I do dispute the comment from Orac that “It’s a story that’s huge here in Michigan but doesn’t seem to be penetrating the national news very much, at least not yet.” I certainly heard of it on the national news some months ago. It has certainly hit major national publications since January 1.

  79. #80 sadmar
    Snyder has a gross point to his policies
    January 10, 2016

    This is truly some thermonuclear grade stupid.

    No, it’s thermonuclear grade racist politics and . The ’emergency managers’ were appointed in cities with large African-American populations that typically vote Democratic, and many (most?) of the elected officials replaced were Black. The emergency managers immediately started screwing up all sorts of public services in these communities, including emergency responders IIRC. Not as dramatic dangers as the lead, but still unconscionable.

    MSNBC (Maddow especially) covered many of these moves from the get-go. What was notable then was not just how few voices seemed worked up about what happening, but how Synder’s moves actually increased his popularity with his base constituency. This is a window into the vile heart of wing-nutism. It’s all ‘keep government off MY back’, but when it comes to those unruly darkies, it’s all ‘more government power to discipline and punish’.

  80. #81 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    January 10, 2016

    @Gilbert:

    This is a travesty; Where were the voices of the dang engineers on this? Off touting vaccines?

    Leaving aside your snideness, it looks like they were laid off or (more likely) simply ignored.
    @DLC:

    I saw this last month. Shocked to find it’s been going on for as long as it has. Have none of these stupid politicians ever even [attended] a course in civil engineering, city planning or toxicology?

    Given the response, I doubt it. The problem is, you don’t need to be highly qualified to get elected, you just have to be someone the electorate will vote for.

  81. #82 doug
    January 10, 2016

    Nice to see Gilbert is up to his usual standards and prepared to poison people with nitrites of molybdenum instead of lead. Those compounds are suitable for non-potable closed systems only.

    DLC – The joints in iron pipe are not sweat soldered. Sweat soldering is used on copper pipes and copper or copper alloy fittings and is a true soldering process where the solder bonds strongly to the copper. All parts of the joint are heated above the melting point of the solder, solder is applied to the joint and drawn into a very narrow gap between the pipe and the fitting by capillary action. Flux is required. This is still widely done, but the solder is now lead-free.
    With iron pipe, a big sloppy joint is packed with oakum (cf Oliver Twist) and then, while it is at ambient temperature, poured full of lead to keep the oakum in place. There is no real bond between the lead and the iron.
    Plastic pipe is now very commonly used for water mains. As far as I know, stainless steel piping is used only in and close to the treatment plants.

    I’d like to see analyses of the Detroit water and the water from the Flint River. I strongly suspect the issue is primarily pH, with lower pH of the river water resulting in stripping out scale, rather than directly attacking the metals. Orac’s original post mentions “salt” which I assume means chlorides which are vicious corroders of metals, including stainless steel.

  82. #83 Orac
    January 10, 2016

    @sadmar:

    What’s even more amazing is how the emergency manager law was reinstated. A referendum was held over the EM law, and voters overwhelmingly defeated it.

    Well, the Republican majority in both houses of the legislature did not like that the voters had struck down the law:

    http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/11/election_results_michigan_vote.html

    So, less than two months later in an action so contemptuous of Michigan voters that it boggles the mind, Republicans subverted the clear will of the voters during the lame duck session by using a quirk in Michigan law that states that if there is an appropriation in a bill it is not subject to voter repeal by referendum. They wrote a new emergency manager bill and stuck an appropriation for EM salaries in it, thus rendering the law referendum-proof:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/27/new-emergency-manager-law-michigan-rick-snyder_n_2322722.html

    We in Michigan have come to fear lame duck sessions. That’s when the legislature passes all sorts of objectionable bills, such as when it made Michigan a “right to work” state. Just last month, the legislature, again subverting the will of the people who, not once but twice, had voted to allow straight party ticket voting, passed a law eliminating straight ticket voting. Their excuse was that everyone should be “educated” and vote for the person not the party. The real reason was to make voting harder in poorer communities with less resources, where increasing the time it takes to vote would make lines longer and make it harder to vote.

    Oh, and the legislature did the same trick as it did with the EM bill. It added a $5 million appropriation to purchase new voting machines and made the law referendum-proof.

    Even worse, the legislature passed a bill last month muzzling government units from giving out factual information about issues 60 days before an election. It started out as a straightforward campaign finance reform bill, but the 12 page bill ballooned to 53 pages in a matter of 10 minutes, as provisions were inserted by one Representative (who won’t say who put her up to it) to muzzle public employees (as above), increase spending limits, and decrease reporting requirements so that voters won’t know who donated to PACs and campaigns until after the election is over:

    http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/brian-dickerson/2016/01/09/elections-law-architect/78431822/

    Many of the Republicans who voted yes hadn’t read the bill and voted based on assurances from the leadership.

    It’s so bad that even a fair number of Republicans were alarmed after they found out what was really in the bill and one even asked Gov. Snyder to veto it:

    http://www.eclectablog.com/2016/01/even-michigan-republicans-feel-duped-by-their-leadership-about-campaign-finance-bill-sb-571.html

    Snyder signed it anyway.

  83. #84 doug
    January 10, 2016

    1. Could someone have reasonably predicted this outcome before they made the switch of water systems? If so, did someone? If they did, what was done with that prediction?

    I think it is extremely likely that it could have been predicted.
    I suspect the book that rhymeswithgoalie recommends lays it out pretty clearly. Alas, the only local copies are in the reserve reading rooms at the university library at the moment, which means for me to use one might disadvantage students, so I’ll have to bide my time.

  84. #85 Not a Troll
    January 10, 2016

    “It’s so bad that even a fair number of Republicans were alarmed after they found out what was really in the bill:”

    Why do you think the Republican Party is imploding.

    MOB,

    IDK. Sounds like incompetence but I can’t see that a lack of caution/concern for safety was not equally at play. I guess where money is involved skepticism goes out the window.

    http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/10/10/missed-opportunities-flint-water-crisis/73688428/

  85. #86 Alain
    January 10, 2016

    That doesn’t mean the rest of us should have to pay taxes to help them. The kids in families that can’t afford bottled water will never amount to anything anyway.

    Doesn’t surprise me. The psychopath I hosted at my apartment 11 years ago told me the government should give people like him my monthly living allowance and leave me to die on the street fending for air to breathe.

    My flying FU to guy’s like him is working for SAP last year and also, helping to crank out this publication: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153845/ 🙂

    Alain

  86. #87 Alain
    January 10, 2016

    Orac #70,

    You know better than I the context so, I agree 🙂

    Al

  87. #88 Ray kinney
    January 11, 2016

    Yes, any water quality responsible agency should have been very capable of good assessment of switching to a different water source… and determining that physical parameters would advresely affect water quality and subsequently increase toxicity. However, the politicians slam agencies that do their jobs with due dilligence.. so those agencies shut up when they should be screaming for better responsibility.

  88. #89 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 11, 2016

    As a professional regulator of public water systems, I cannot understand how the water quality public health failure in Flint took place. There are so many parts to this failure of public health: failure to properly assess the water quality of the new source, failure to properly monitor (test) the finished water quality, failure to properly to inform the water users of the water quality (right to know), failure to supply bottled water to the system users (maybe they have but I have not heard they have supplied bottled water).

    Anytime a public water system (PWS) changes water sources they are required to sample for a long list of contaminants including lead/copper, TTHMs, and HAA5s. When Flint switched sources they should have begun quarterly sampling for lead/copper.

    Flint should have been taking a minimum of 100 lead/copper per quarter from tier 1 homes. Once you have the results you rank the results so you can determine the 90th percentile level. If the 90th percentile meets or exceeds .015 mg/l, the system is out of compliance. Mandatory public notification is required, more testing is required, alternative drinking water supply (such as bottled water) must be supplied at no charge. A treatment plan must be developed and implemented.

    Michigan is a state that has taken primacy from EPA for regulation drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA). However, EPA still retains the right to ensure compliancy of the SWDA and 40CFR141 by drinking water systems. Hopefully, EPA will take this case over and drop the hammer on all the people who failed to do their job. Some of these people could end up in jail.

  89. #90 Chris
    January 11, 2016

    And Rich Bly’s comment is why I try to read all the responses on this blog. I learn so much. Thank you so much!

    I do vaguely remember when the City of Seattle added the Tolt River to its water supply that there were articles on things found in its water (like naturally occurring asbestos, which was either at too low a level or dealt with). Plus something about adding stuff to the water because it was so soft that it was corroding pipes.

    Then again, it may be a false memory.

    More recently, the city has been replacing open reservoirs with underground versions. This has created some new parks. I assume the water testing is done when each is put online.

  90. #91 Sarah A
    January 11, 2016

    @Alain #86 – Congrats!

  91. #92 Gilbert
    January 11, 2016

    Nice to see Gilbert is up to his usual standards and prepared to poison people with nitrites of molybdenum sodium molybdate instead of lead.

    By extrapolation from animal experiments massive doses of molybdenum compounds would be required to produce acute molybdenum poisoning in human beings and so acute poisoning is unlikely.

    http://www.imoa.info/HSE/environmental_data/human_health/molybdenum_toxicology.php

    Relative to fluoride, doug #82; Imma pretty sure there is no problem with the molybdenum so long as it is relatively non-staining to the laundry and is not included in any ‘quality’ assays…

  92. #93 doug
    January 11, 2016

    I used the wrong word. That should have be nitrites or molybdenum.

    Nice cherry pick of the sentence that suited your fancy. How about you also include the next sentence: “What is more important is the problem of whether continued exposure to low concentrations of molybdenum compounds causes subtle physiological changes.” Or from elsewhere on the page: “A tolerable daily intake (TDI) for molybdenum of 0.009 mg Mo /kg/ day for humans was calculated based on a toxicological risk analysis derived from a survey of the absorption, excretion, uptake, and physiological and toxic effects of molybdenum in humans and animals [Vyskocil and Viau, 1999].”

    Now run along and find us something to tell us what concentration of sodium molybdate would be required in the system under consideration. And find us some info on its use in open systems of potable water. Get us the info on nitrites while you’re at it.

  93. #94 Alain
    January 12, 2016

    Thanks you very much dear Sarah 🙂

    Alain

  94. #95 Gilbert
    January 12, 2016

    Well, that certainly is sloppy of me, doug #93.

    In Armenians 10- 15 mg Mo/d {.14 – .21 mg/Kg-d} (derived from high soil Mo) gave clinical evidence of gout

    <– That does suck.

    There is evidence that trace elements, particularly molybdenum, in the water supply and in food, enhance the cariostatic effect of fluoride

    http://www.imoa.info/HSE/environmental_data/human_health/molybdenum_toxicology.php

    Pour * Protect * Preserve
    http://www.no-rosion.com/tech_coolant.htm

  95. #96 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 12, 2016

    I just read an interesting article concerning the lead contamination of drinking water at foodsafetynews.com. It seems that only 43 out of almost 2200 tested (adults and children) for blood lead levels since Oct 1 have exceed 5mg/dl. 5mg/dl blood lead is the standard for children and not adults (adult levels of concern are much higher) and the article doesn’t differentiate between adults and children. Also, the article doesn’t tell us if the test population were people from homes with high lead levels in the water or people that were concerned about their lead levels. The two populations probably don’t match well. People who have been tested before were not counted in this number.

    Without knowing more precise information: These numbers look like the state and local health departments may be saying “The blood lead levels found are not a big deal only 1.9% of the people tested have elevated lead levels.

  96. […] How the Michigan state government poisoned the children of Flint – It’s a story that’s huge here in Michigan but doesn’t seem to be penetrating the … First it was Michael Brown. Then it was Ed Kurtz. Then it was Michael Brown again. Then it was Darnell Earley. Then it was Jerry … […]

  97. #98 shay simmons
    January 13, 2016

    The Michigan National Guard is going to be used to deliver bottled water (taking over from volunteers).

    http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/01/13/michigan-governor-activates-national-guard-to-deal-water-crisis.html?ESRC=eb.nl

  98. #99 Gilbert
    January 13, 2016

    The role of sodium molybdate (1 mg/kg, intraperitoneally, once daily) supplementation during the course of lead exposure (0.1% lead acetate in drinking water for 4 weeks) in preventing the accumulation of lead in blood and soft tissues and in restoring altered lead-sensitive biochemical variables and the levels of hepatic glutathione, lipid peroxidation, blood Na, blood K, and serum ceruloplasmin was investigated in rats. The data indicate that sodium molybdate significantly protected the uptake of lead in blood, liver, and kidneys …The results suggest a significant role of sodium molybdate in preventing plumbism.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7504610

    The CDC notes fluoride adds the anti-corrosive, silicate. But others have noted

    “When a city or village is fluoridated, no thought is given to the fact that there will be damage to the pipes of the water system, meters, hot water heaters and tanks and other equipment. Fluoride is extremely corrosive. The hard fact that this damage occurs comes as quite a shock a few years later.”

    Fluoride is purported to be safe so long as the trained professional is really, really careful. They did not seem careful in this poisoning — “Apparently, they already didn’t see it cost-effective to adjust the pH; Could it be even more cost effective to add little more unbalanced corrosive in the form of fluoride?

    water fluoridation equipment should be tested, maintained and replaced as needed. State health departments can procure federal grant monies for these purposes.

    http://www.fluoridedebate.com/question33.html

  99. #100 Krebiozen
    January 13, 2016

    Gilbert,

    The role of sodium molybdate (1 mg/kg, intraperitoneally, once daily) supplementation during the course of lead exposure (0.1% lead acetate in drinking water for 4 weeks) in preventing the accumulation of lead in blood and soft tissues and in restoring altered lead-sensitive biochemical variables and the levels of hepatic glutathione, lipid peroxidation, blood Na, blood K, and serum ceruloplasmin was investigated in rats.

    I’m not sure that intraperitoneal injection of large amounts of molybdenum is the answer to this problem, particularly as this dose (1 mg/kg/day) would greatly exceed that which produces gout (0.14-0.21 mg/kg/day), according to one of your links..

    “When a city or village is fluoridated, no thought is given to the fact that there will be damage to the pipes of the water system, meters, hot water heaters and tanks and other equipment. Fluoride is extremely corrosive. The hard fact that this damage occurs comes as quite a shock a few years later.”

    Yet in the article you linked to the CDC states:

    Allegations that fluoridation causes corrosion of water delivery systems are not supportable.

  100. #101 Francois Theberge
    January 13, 2016

    As far as I know, the only news outlet with national reach to discuss this affair in depth was The Majority Report with Sam Seder.

    Some higher ups must go to jail for that. But rest assured it won’t happen. After all, if a CIA officer (Jose Rodriguez) can avoid arrest and prosecution for destroying evidence of war crimes and murder DESPITE a federal court order to the contrary and then go brag about it on 60Minutes, anything goes among the elites!

  101. #102 Gilbert
    January 13, 2016

    The Michigan National Guard is going to be used to deliver bottled water

    May I take it,shay simmons#98, that people are not going to be *bathing* in the bottled water?

    In vivo experiments with the stable lead isotope, 204Pb, have confirmed that inorganic lead compounds can be absorbed through the skin

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8016629

    Though I was being facetious with doug #93, I’m starting to think that the inclusion of molybdenum as a corrosion inhibitor and a protectorant against plumbism is a potential short-term solution.

  102. #103 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    January 13, 2016

    As far as I know, the only news outlet with national reach to discuss this affair in depth was The Majority Report with Sam Seder.

    That may be true if you don”t count NPR, Newsweek, Fox, The Huffington Post, NBC, Al Jazeera, CBS, Slate, The Washington Post*, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Nation, …

    *Not the Sousa march.

  103. #104 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 13, 2016

    Gilbert, did you even read the abstract of the referenced study? Yes it showed that the two lead compounds could pass the skin barrier. No it did not show that lead passed on to the circulatory system (not found except in minute quantity).

    When elevated lead levels are found in blood this means (more than likely) that lead has been taken up by bone in place of calcium. As time passes the lead in bones is released back into the blood stream where it can cause long term neurological and other disorders.

    Bathing in water that has lead levels that are typically found in water above the action level of .015 mg/l is not an issue because skin does not transport lead well to the bloodstream.

  104. #105 Gilbert
    January 13, 2016

    Yes it showed that the two lead compounds could pass the skin barrier. No it did not show that lead passed on to the circulatory system

    So, The affected just gain mass in the skin and turn grey?

  105. #106 Gilbert
    January 14, 2016

    did you even read the abstract of the referenced study?

    Not carefully, Rich Bly #104,so I looked again:

    Moreover, because lead absorbed through the skin was only just detectable in blood, and blood lead is the main criterion by which industry determines exposure, skin-absorbed lead may remain undetected.

    I *think* that ^^ could be germane to your #96 observation that

    It seems that only 43 out of almost 2200 tested (adults and children) for blood lead levels since Oct 1 have exceed 5mg/dl.

    Since we’re talking about bathwater; Ray Kinney #51and #52 notes

    Some of their work also suggested that some commonly used soaps fascilitated the movement into rather than away from the body, and that it was most important to avoid exposure rather than rely on washing.

    Lead levels in these children may have risen even beyond the levels that will be indicated by simply testing for blood lead.

    So where might it be if not actually inside the bloodstream? Everywhere else the blood stream services, perhaps?

    It is possible that the physicochemical form of skin-absorbed lead partitions strongly into extracellular fluid, but has a low affinity for erythrocytes.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8016629

  106. #107 Orac
    January 15, 2016

    @doug (#14)

    Here’s an article that described just how bad the readings were for lead levels in Flint.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/15/this-is-how-toxic-flints-water-really-is/

    Quote:

    Now things get interesting. Here’s a glass illustrating the 90th percentile reading among the 271 Flint homes tested by researchers last summer:

    At 27 parts per billion, it’s five times as high as the level of concern, and nearly twice as high as the EPA’s already-generous guidelines. According to the researchers who ran these tests, the health effects of lead levels this high “can include high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, kidney damage and memory and neurological problems.”

    Recall, though, that 10 percent of the homes in the sample had lead levels even higher than this. Here’s the highest lead reading in that sample, from a home in the city’s 8th Ward:

    158 ppm

    That’s more than 10 times the EPA limit. It’s 30 times higher than the 5 ppb reading that can indicate unsafe lead amounts.

    But that 158 ppb reading is far from the worst one that turned up in Flint, unfortunately. In the spring of 2015, city officials tested water in the home of LeeAnne Walters, a stay-at-home mother of four and a Navy wife. They got a reading of 397 ppb, an alarmingly high number.

    But it was even worse than that. Virginia Tech’s team went to Walters’ house to verify those numbers later in the year. They were concerned that the city tested water in a way that was almost guaranteed to minimize lead readings: They flushed the water for several minutes before taking a sample, which often washes away a percentage of lead contaminants. They also made residents collect water at a very low flow rate, which they knew also tended to be associated with lower readings.

    So the Virginia Tech researchers took 30 different readings at various flow levels. What they found shocked them: The lowest reading they obtained was around 200 ppb, already ridiculously high. But more than half of the readings came in at more than 1,000 ppb. Some came in above 5,000 — the level at which EPA considers the water to be “toxic waste.”

    The highest reading registered at 13,000 ppb.

    The professor who conducted the sampling, Dr. Marc Edwards, was in “disbelief.”

    “We had never seen such sustained high levels of lead in 25 years of work,” he said.

    According to Edwards, the team retested the water with extra quality controls and assurance checks, and obtained the exact same results.

  107. #108 Ron
    Auburn Hills, MI
    January 15, 2016

    Where is the Flint River not a direct part of the Detroit Water System? It’s downstream in case all you college educated dummies haven’t figured that out. All the rivers are polluted. Pollution is easy to trace the source. Money and corrupt officials are why it’s all polluted. I turned in my employer and he got a fine of $500 thousand. He sold the company for $18 million. I lost my full pension , was fired, and after a whistleblower case they gave me $26 thousand and my job back then they sold the company. I had to pay the lawyer out of the $26K Thats how it works. Nobody goes to prison for poisoning millions of men, women, and children downstream.

  108. #109 Julian Frost
    South Africa
    January 15, 2016

    Orac:

    he lowest reading they obtained was around 200 ppb, already ridiculously high. But more than half of the readings came in at more than 1,000 ppb. Some came in above 5,000 — the level at which EPA considers the water to be “toxic waste.”

    The highest reading registered at 13,000 ppb.

    That is horrifying.

  109. #110 Gilbert
    January 15, 2016

    The numbers are scary high. There may be another contributing factor that, despite the juggling of water sources and Republicans, is related to the current solar maximum and the high lattitude of the area — Telluric currents contributing to electrolysis:

    A telluric current, or Earth current, is an electric current which moves underground or through the sea. Telluric currents result from both natural causes and human activity, … The currents are extremely low frequency and travel over large areas at or near the surface of the Earth…

    Earth batteries tap a useful low voltage current from Telluric currents, and were used for telegraph systems as far back as the 1840s.

    {lead pipes are a relatively rather poor conductor so that Faraday cage arguments within and along them are invalidated}.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telluric_current

    That Central Michigan is a ‘national treasure’ HAARP node in that area, inducing low frequency telluric currents through the Earth-Ionospheric waveguide coupling through charged, oscillating buoancy waves probably does not have anything to do with it. The natural dinural solar variation and Schumann resonances just might:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schumann_resonances

  110. #111 MI Dawn
    January 15, 2016

    It is horrifying. And following the WaPo’s links was even more disturbing, with photos of the rust and color of the water (note – the groundwater near my parent’s cottage is brown from tannin. We don’t drink it because it tastes awful but it’s not dangerous.)

  111. #112 MI Dawn
    January 15, 2016

    @Gilbert: That STILL doesn’t explain why everything was fine with Flint water until they changed where it came from.

  112. #113 doug
    January 15, 2016

    Orac, thanks for that.

    Slowly it is all starting to make sense as I see more bits and pieces of info. Those high concentrations all seem to me entirely consistent with stripping of lead-saturated scale. I’m still curious as to just why the stripping is occurring (pH, Ca++ conc., etc.) and why phosphates, specifically, would be a remedy. I did find a pdf on the city’s website that gave a very “layman’s” sort of explanation that wasn’t very helpful. It kind of reinforced my view that it was for passivation of bare metal. I don’t think any sort of natural phosphate scale is common in water lines, but it’s outside of my knowledge.

    The fact that the city sampled the way it did suggests “they” were either aware of the problem and sought to cover it up as much possible or were clueless about appropriate sampling methods.

    At the risk of conjuring he who shall not be named, maybe the scale or the pipes were being oxidized by EM fields from radar with high-gain antennas. {/sarc}

  113. #114 Gilbert
    January 16, 2016

    At the risk of conjuring he who shall not be named, maybe the scale or the pipes were being oxidized by EM fields from radar with high-gain antennas. {/sarc}

    That’s not how any of this would work directly, doug #113. The phased array high frequency, high-gain antennas are trained on a section of the ionosphere so that

    low frequency modulation of the electrojet produces an EM wave magnetic field component that is measurable on the earth’s surface.

    https://sincedutch.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/haarp-tomography-elf-vlf.pdf

    ^^ That .pdf is all a demonstration mapping narco-tunnels along the border; The useless, yet pernicious, drugwar derps.

    Using amplitude-modulated high-frequency (HF) heating waves for electron heating, the conductivity of plasma and thus the embedded electrojet currents in high-latitude ionosphere can be modulated accordingly to set up the ionospheric antenna current for extremely low frequency (ELF) wave generation.

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/252588117_Generation_of_extremely_low_frequency_radiation_by_ionospheric_electrojet_modulation_using_powerful_high-frequency_heating_waves

    Remember, *heating causes expansion*.

    High frequency waves typically associated with ‘radar’ and deployed in an urban environment would, in general, not maintain the necessary stable phase and polarization to generate a standing wave across a sufficient distance to cause stray currents in pipes {unless the radar shack is not properly earthed}.

    No, sir. since we’re “/sarc”ing; I would more look to one of the many over-priveleged, underchallenged and bored evil scientist type kids populating the area. He’d have free reign of one of daddy’s empty automobile factorys and a giant, mutant potato battery connected to each lead of an old defunct and bisected section of buried, terminated Group-W coaxial cable.

    In particular, he most likely abides here during dinner time:

    The Paterson Building is a historic office building located at 653 S. Saginaw St and Third Street in downtown Flint, Michigan, USA. It was built by William A. Paterson of the Paterson Automotive Company during the birth of the auto industry… It has three beautiful floors with a full garage in the basement level. It provides heated valet parking for its tenants. The building consists of mainly law and medical offices.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paterson_Building

    /sarc

  114. #115 Gilbert
    January 18, 2016

    Well, Wikipedia or it didn’t happen, hu? Abiding there now is a shiny, new entry on the ‘Flint water crisis’; A couple details really fuel my minarchian bloodlustjump out at me:

    In a separate email sent on July 22, 2015, MDHHS local health services director Mark Miller wrote to colleagues that it “Sounds like the issue is old lead service lines.” These emails were obtained under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act by Virginia Tech researchers studying the crisis, and were released to the public in the first week of January 2016.

    Although the labor of the team (composed of scientists, investigators, graduate students, and undergraduates) was free, the investigation still spent more than $180,000 for such expenses as water testing and payment of Michigan Freedom of Information Act costs.

    FOIA should be really, really expensive because, if someone requests what’s in their water, it may hamper DMV revenue collection as, everytime a county clerk has to walk across the street to fullfill the request, a frustrated applicant may just skip the whole rigmarole and pay a crackhead for his I.D.– Totally causing bad moral by cheating some functionaries out of the satisfaction of making one stand in an potentially inoculating line for hours on end and also feeling wrongfully snubbed of the office-orgasm that derives from informing him that he didn’t sign his middle initial right. — It is a pretty big deal for them because Ben Wa balls are restricted** as they are a noisy distraction to the hunting license lady when they fall out and roll across the marble floor.

    Then there is potential exposing of the applying driver to wrongful prosecution and mistrial because, unlike himself, the supplier of the ID was restricted to corrective lenses.

    If harassment at work doesn’t work, maybe frivolous harassing FOIA requests will.

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/01/11/transparency-should-not-mean-a-license-to-harass-scientists/

    If I had to guess (and I like to guess), some of those requests probably involed the disclosure of test-site street addresses. Futhermore, I would consider the possiblility that the test sites were carefully selected such as to exclude those found on certain index cards:

    In October 2015, it was reported that the city government’s data on lead water lines in the city was stored on 45,000 index cards (some dating back a century) located in filing cabinets in Flint’s public utility building.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint_water_crisis

    Obviously, it is prudently expident to make the request ‘pricey’ as what is *frivolous harassing* for one is an attempt to subvert a public servant’s 5’th amendment right against self-incrimination for another.

    If public servants would behave such, what of corporations which peddle billion dollar genes and herbicides or the agenda-funded climate scientist who is really, really shy about disclosing how he manipulated surface temp data?

    **Though, they are not hard to pass through the security scanner because city employees.

  115. #116 Renate
    January 19, 2016

    At this moment I’m watching the German news, bringing this.

    Some days ago it was on the Dutch news website of the public broadcasting organisation.

  116. #117 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 19, 2016

    MI Dawn, the difference is in the aggressiveness of the supplied water.

    I doubt the Detroit River water has an elevated lead level, the lead found in the samples comes from the water system its self.

    I suspect that the Flint water system still has lead connectors between the water mains and the homes. Also, many homes may have copper piping that was soldered using lead solder. The lead in the samples will have been leached from these type piping issues.

    Orac’s comment at #107 shows that the samples were improperly taken. Lead/copper samples are taken from certain (Tier 1 then Tier 2 then Tier 3) homes as a first draw. First draw samples are taken from the home as first use of the system after 8 hours of very low use. The current samples were taken after flushing the system which lowers the lead/copper levels. I am surprised that so high of lead levels were found after flushing. Either the samplers were incompetently trained or we will leave it to you to fill in the or.

  117. #118 KayMarie
    January 20, 2016

    Please tell me I’m not paranoid. Fine, I’m paranoid just tell me I’m mistaken.

    CNN report on the crisis at the end one of the anchors made some rather snide comment that sounded to my precaffinated ears like Science says there is nothing they can do to, and I forget the exact turn of phrase, but restore these kids is what I remember.

    Has the detox army begun their assault on Flint? and have they started whispering in the media’s ears?

  118. #119 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 20, 2016

    I made an error in my comment at #117: it is the Flint river not the Detroit River.

  119. #120 KEVIN PETERSON
    United States
    January 20, 2016

    The root of the problem is with the emergency managers. In 2012 the people voted to repeal the program and 5 months later Snyder and the republican controlled House and Senate pushed it through in a bill, and in the controversial “immediate effect”. How is this measure even considered Constitutional?

    If you were to put it on another level, say a state with financial problems. Tthe president appointed a financial emergency manager to a state with finanacial problems like Kansas, he would go in make the states legislature null and void with regards to any state funds. How do you think this would be viewed by anyone? It’s the same thing.

  120. #121 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    January 21, 2016
  121. #122 Orac
    January 21, 2016

    Oh, it’s international news now. NBC News did a long story on it last night during its evening newscast. I’m seeing news reports on it in all manner of media outlets. The thing is, until a few weeks ago it was primarily a local story. In fact, even the Detroit media didn’t cover it as much as it deserved until fall, even though it’s been going on since summer 2014, when Flint residents started complaining about the water within a month after the switch to Flint River water.

  122. #123 Orac
    January 21, 2016

    The root of the problem is with the emergency managers. In 2012 the people voted to repeal the program and 5 months later Snyder and the republican controlled House and Senate pushed it through in a bill, and in the controversial “immediate effect”. How is this measure even considered Constitutional?

    Oh, without a doubt. The emergency manager law needs to be repealed, badly, and the Republican legislature’s contempt for voters was never more apparent when they pushed through a new version of the law that was referendum-proof more like five weeks after the voters repealed it in a referendum. Voters repealed the previous emergency manager law in November 2012. The lame duck legislature passed a new one in December, and Snyder signed it right after Christmas.

    An interesting wrinkle to this whole thing is that apologists for Darnell Earley, the emergency manager who made the switch, claim that he had no choice but to switch temporarily to Flint River water because Detroit, upon learning that Flint was going to switch to another water source, voided its long term contract with Flint, exercising its right under the contract to give Flint a year’s notice. Detroit was, of course, willing to negotiate a short term contract, but the rate would have been higher. But guess what? At the time, Detroit was under the control of an emergency manager who was trying to raise money and cut costs too!

    The emergency manager law must go.

  123. #124 MI Dawn
    January 21, 2016

    @Rich Bly: you still didn’t show WHY, a month after the switch from Lake Huron water to Flint River water, the residents were complaining about discolored water and then the elevated lead levels were found. Obviously, they didn’t dig up and change all the pipes during the switch, so there HAS to be a difference in the water itself, not just the supply lines.

    And are you also arguing with the Virginia Tech testing of samples? Why? You claim the testing was done improperly or else the researchers did what? Forged the samples? Forged the results? What?

  124. #125 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 21, 2016

    MI Dawn: When the City of Flint changed water sources the aggressiveness of the water change (for the worse) so that lead was being leached from sources within the pipe delivery system and home piping. From Orac’s post at 107; the city of Flint people who took the water samples did not follow the sampling protocol as required by EPA for lead/copper samples. I would believe that the Virginia Tech samplers would follow the proper protocol. With surface water supply systems it takes a properly trained staff and right equipment to remove color and odor from a water supply (both are considered secondary contaminants). I wonder if the City of Flint when they made the change from being a secondary supplier of water (was buying finished water from Detroit) to a primary supplier had either the trained staff or facilities to undertake such a large project.

    I was not questioning the Virginia Tech samplers but the ones from the city.

  125. #126 doug
    January 21, 2016

    I don’t know the details of the standard sampling protocols, but strongly suspect that none are really appropriate to the situation in Flint.
    If there is no expectation of lead pipes outside of the building, sampling for lead is going to be optimized to find lead from the usually-expected sources: lead pipe inside the building, lead in brass fittings (added to the brass to make it easy to machine; smears over the machined surfaces making it highly “available” for a limited time after installation), lead parts in fixtures, and lead used in the tin-lead (typically 50% each by weight for plumbing, so the lead content is much lower volume) solder long used for joints in copper pipes. With copper pipes with properly made solder joints, by far the largest contributors to lead are going to be pretty much right at the taps – brass bodies and several soldered joints within a metre or so).
    In this situation, a standing water sample taken immediately on opening the tap will almost certainly have the highest lead content. A standing water sample taken after running out a couple of litres will likely have the highest lead content with lead pipes in the building. A flushed-line sample is taken at a point where the flow has been sufficient to flush the in-building pipes will get the highest lead content if the in-building pipes are not lead but the service lines from the main are lead. Longer flushing will best reflect what is in the local main. With cast iron mains with lead joints (standard for cast iron), the lead content would then depend heavily on how the mains were arranged and the overall flow through them.
    If the pipes were internally coated with scale and the composition of the “new” water resulted in stripping scale (due to change in pH or reduction in ion content favoring scale removal rather than deposition), then I would expect substantial change in the lead content over time after the first introduction of the new water. Since any scale would likely be “saturated” with lead in the lead pipes, with the lead content inversely proportional to distance from the metal surface, the time profile could be quite odd. Initially, dissolved scale from the iron mains might reduce the rate of scale removal from the lead pipes (e.g. with carbonate scale, the scale from the iron mains could both neutralize acid water and keep the carbonate content of the water high as it dissolved). Once all the pipes were stripped to bare metal, the actual corrosive nature of the water on lead would come into play.
    Again, I don’t know what standard sampling protocols are, but if they do not include collection methods and sufficiently frequent sampling to reflect the sorts of scenarios I’ve outlined, I would regard them as inappropriate, standard or not.
    If I were running the show and had the budget, I’d be having some lead service lines to some abandoned house dug up for examination in the lab.

  126. #127 Gilbert
    January 21, 2016

    If I were running the show and had the budget, I’d be having some lead service lines to some abandoned house dug up for examination in the lab.

    How prudent, dough #126. You may do an electrolysis experiment on those pipes to demonstrate that, no matter how thick the scale, dissolution still occures. However, I’d expect that testing “abandoned” lines without flowing electrolyte would show less degredation which may lend false blame upon all the lead-shot duckhunters and enthralled-with-the-productivity fishermen {/sarc} on and along the Flint river.

    Whether it is due to microchannels through a deposit, such as with cave formation deposition/dissolution, or more of a ‘salt-bridge’ effect in play, The fact is that galvanic corrosion still occurs. A simple electrolysis experiment with a couple nails will yeild very fat nails with no intact steel remaning therein — Or those iron oxide-encrusted boat anchors and treasures from {garr. I almost revealed me find}.

    As you surmize, I think it is a given that the water was too soft (lack of ions) and the pH was too acidic — Most likely because of incompetent adjustment at the treatment plant.. The selfsame plant which is likewise entrusted to introduce fluoride to protect the victim’s teeth.

  127. #128 shay simmons
    Who should be doing an online FEMA course, but isn't
    January 21, 2016

    How timely — I’m on the listserv for the Disaster Outreach program of the National Library of Health, and this hit my mailbox today.

    http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USNLMDIMRC/bulletins/13197fa?reqfrom=share

  128. #129 herr doktor bimler
    January 21, 2016

    Oh, it’s international news now.
    You know it’s big news now that the professional apologists in the media have been called in to shift the blame to Big Government and the President.

  129. #130 shay simmons
    January 21, 2016

    I hadn’t noticed, herr doktor — I’ve been too busy following Sarah Palin’s story that President Obama is to blame for her son’s domestic violence arrest.

  130. #131 doug
    January 21, 2016

    Gilbert, do you actually know even the tiniest amount of chemistry, or just keep reading wikipedia articles you don’t really understand?
    Do you know what oxidation and reduction are? There is no need to invoke galvanic corrosion. If you bury a chunk of cast iron pipe in soil, it will corrode. The rate will be influenced by the chemical composition of the soil. There is no need to complete an external electrical circuit. Iron will gladly play reducing agent to any available oxidizing agent. Galvanic corrosion may play a role, but you seem intent on grasping at the obscure while ignoring the obvious.

    Have you seen the photos of the Flint water tower? I don’t know about that particular one, but sprinkled across the US landscape are many similar water towers that have their inside protected from corrosion by a system which utilizes a controller I designed. There are pipelines in Saudi Arabia about which I can say the same thing. I’m no expert, but I know a thing or two about corrosion.
    Did you know that if you have an aluminum boat and toss a steel anchor on a metal chain or cable into the water that the boat will at least partially protect the anchor from corrosion?

    The intent of your babble about the pipes and duck hunters escapes me. I would specifically choose pipes going to houses that have been vacant since before the change to Flint river water so they could be sectioned and examined, and interior scale, it it exists, analyzed. Doing this might have aided in prediction of the effects of the new water source.

    Ionic content, as such, does not equate to hardness. Hardness is conferred by multivalent cations, in the vast majority of cases divalent calcium and magnesium. Sea water contains much higher levels of Ca++ and Mg++ than the majority of fresh water, but it is vastly more corrosive. Adding calcium chloride to pure water will make it hard and much more corrosive because of the Cl- ions. However, hard water could “passivate” lead pipes, not because of the calcium or magnesium but because their source is often in the form of carbonates (e.g. limestone or dolomite), so they contribute carbonate ions. Lead carbonate can form a “seal” on the surface of lead that dramatically reduces the corrosion of the base metal. Gods help you if you start dissolving the lead carbonate into water that people drink.

  131. #132 Gilbert
    January 22, 2016

    Gilbert, do you actually know even the tiniest amount of chemistry

    Not, as such, doug #131 — I think I was conflating the issue with a strip of bacon suspended in Coke.

    sprinkled across the US landscape are many similar water towers that have their inside protected from corrosion by a system which utilizes a controller I designed. There are pipelines in Saudi Arabia about which I can say the same thing.

    Nifty. I picture a large sacrificial anode composed of depleted uranium and embossed with bear claws — It would twist in and out like a giant lipstick according to an hourly sampling of the local hearts/minds ratio. {Saudi Arabia is in Iraq, is it not? I don’t know principalities.}

    I would specifically choose pipes going to houses that have been vacant since before the change to Flint river water so they could be sectioned and examined, and interior scale, it it exists, analyzed. Doing this might have aided in prediction of the effects of the new water source.

    That does sound prudent, though I’d have thought the problem should immediately reveal itself as obvious because lead pipes.

    Adding calcium chloride to pure water will make it hard and much more corrosive because of the Cl- ions. However, hard water could “passivate” lead pipes, not because of the calcium or magnesium but because their source is often in the form of carbonates (e.g. limestone or dolomite)

    They seem to have been throwing lime into the mix; But what is one to make of observations of ‘chlorides’ at the General motors plant?

    But when Flint switched to river water, it didn’t add phosphates. Instead it added lime to soften the water.

    “The lime softening process has the added benefit of some corrosion control,” …

    …The tests showed Flint River water without added phosphates corroded the lead at 19 times the rate of Detroit water. Even when phosphates were added, it corroded at 16 times the rate of the Detroit water.

    “From the second it was switched, it was doomed from the lead problem,” Edwards said…

    …workers at Flint’s GM engine plant began seeing rust on newly machined engine parts. GM’s lab tests found high levels of chloride in the water used to wash down metal shavings and cool parts heated from the rapid machining action inside the plant

    luckily for GM and their duped consumers everywhere, they sealed a deal to switch back off Flint River water:

    Dec. 27, 2014: Flint’s General Motors engine plant, citing high chloride levels in the water, switches off its hook-up to Flint, drawing water instead from neighboring Flint Township.

    http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/10/10/missed-opportunities-flint-water-crisis/73688428/

    At this point, I’m afraid the most cost-effective option is probably to drain the whole system and slosh** around some sodium silicate/epoxy resin like one would treat a rust, old motorcycle gas tank.

    **Regulations governing man-made earthquakes to do the ‘sloshing’ would need to be relaxed posthaste.

  132. #133 Gilbert
    January 22, 2016

    Flint police previously reported a break-in at City Hall, 1101 S. Saginaw St. over the holiday break, but information released Monday, Jan. 11, confirmed the break-in happened at a vacant executive office in the mayor’s suite that contained documents related to the city’s water system.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2016/01/city_hall_office_containing_wa.html

    ^^ What kind of ‘gate’ will it be now since ‘water’ is already spoken for?

    George Gordon Battle Liddy (born November 30, 1930), better known as G. Gordon Liddy is a retired American lawyer and convicted felon who is best known as the chief operative in the White House Plumbers unit that existed from July–September 1971, during Richard Nixon’s presidency. He was convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping for his role in the Watergate scandal.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._Gordon_Liddy

    I’ve just been listening to Infowars where a very pretty reporter, Lee Ann McAdoo, has highlighted that a houshold cannot disconnect from the astronomically-priced municipal poison supply in favor of collecting rainwater or having a well because that is grounds for the household to be condemned — Children living in a ‘condemned’ household with inadequate flow from the municipal supply can be confiscated and relegated to The State and end up drinking and bathing in the pricey, fluoridated poison anyways.

  133. #134 Sam
    Kansas
    January 22, 2016

    As I watch Shindler’s list I am thinking – who will pay for the health care of these innocent children poisoned by our own government her in the USA? The government healthcare system is highly expensive and they will need care the rest of their lives because lead poisoning is irreversible.

  134. #135 Susan
    Allentown
    January 25, 2016

    Orac–EPA role? I don’t see any mention in your story.
    Also, as noted just above, the sensationalization of “taking the children away” from non-water bill-paying citizens had taken a strong foothold recently.

  135. #136 Jami
    Ashland
    January 27, 2016

    My two cents…the City of Flint is like the rest of the United States (we all need new pipes to replace the one hundred year old problems and cannot acquire the funds), but rather than wait their turn, they chose to poison their citizens to obtain Federal Funding…the worse is your problem, the higher you move on the gravy train. Any first-year chemistry student could have predicted this mess and most assuredly the old and jaded pols with their “by any means necessary” engineers knew EXACTLY what they were doing and understood they’d need to sacrifice a few eggs to get their shiny new omelet and lucrative engineering contract for a huge, costly and more important…BRAND SPANKIN NEW treatment and distribution system paid for by others (tax payers, that is.)

  136. #137 Vicki
    trying to avoid the conspiracy theories here
    January 27, 2016

    Jami–the main reason federal funding is needed is because of the thousands of poisoned children.

    I am entirely prepared to believe that the unelected well-to-do white rulers of Flint deliberately poisoned poor and mostly black people, but not because they could get money to try to make up for some of the damage later. There are a lot of people in power who actively fear and/or dislike black people, and want to keep poor people poor.

    If the correlation between lead poisoning and violence is true, or even if the powers that be in Michigan think it’s true, this looks like “let’s make sure we have an excuse to lock them up” as well as “let’s make sure they don’t compete with us for jobs and admission to good colleges.” With maybe a side order of “if we increase the violent crime rate, we can get more funding for police.”

  137. #138 JustaTech
    January 27, 2016

    Jami and Vicki – I don’t think that we should assume that there was ever very much thought about the water switch. Both of your suggestions require a lot of active malevolence, and active just means work. I think it’s much more likely that the response to first switching the water and then to the complaints was, pardon the profanity, “f@ck ’em”.

    It’s just as racist, and has just as terrible outcomes, but on some levels it’s even more callous, because it’s clear that the people in charge never thought of the residents of Flint at all. Not as people, not as adults who understood perfectly well that something was wrong. The people of Flint were accorded less thought and concern than a fly buzzing the governor.

  138. #139 Vicki
    January 27, 2016

    I’m prepared to believe that it was depraved indifference rather than a deliberate attempt to poison children, but I think that if it was deliberate, it was more likely coming from the same mindset that makes excuses for killings because it doesn’t believe any black child is innocent, than from “hey, we can get federal funding on this.”

  139. #140 Vicki
    January 27, 2016

    P.S. I use the term “depraved indifference” deliberately. On the evidence to date, I would vote to convict the governor and the “emergency” manager he put in charge of Flint of assault by depraved indifference, for everyone who drank the Flint water during the time that they were covering up the problem.

  140. […] been nearly three weeks since I wrote about how an imperative to save money at all costs combined with gross incompetence to poison […]

  141. […] shown itself to be epically incompetent in its handling of the Flint water crisis, which I’ve written about a couple of times before. Our legislature repealed our mandatory motorcycle helmet law, and as a […]

  142. #143 Ray Kinney
    Oregon
    January 29, 2016

    Blood lead levels are very useful to determine most recent exposure to lead, but further testing is vrey important to inform the overal levels of body burden that is affecting physiology and behavior at any point in time. It will be very important to assess the bone lead levels via xray fluorescence (a non-invasive procedure) through time of the people exposed. Blood lead levels alone can be very misleading, and can mask exposures, uptake, and body burden of lead… and subsequent risk of remobilization under periods of stress such as pregnancy to episodically recirculate in blood… even without new exposure. Pregnancy can harm the developing fetus even after a mothre has taken a blood lead test showing only low levels. There are no truly safe levels of lead in the body, even though regulatory and political influences have set levels that deem to be ‘safe’. In fact, current bones have 100 to 1000 times the lead in them than prehistoric bones had. We have all accumulated more lead in our bodies than our physiology has evolved to deal with adequately. Lead toxic effect take a vast societal toll on subtle but very significant disease promotion, and adverse behavioral effects that plague our populations and increase our need for prisons.
    Flint is only the tip of the iceburg when chronic low dose exposures are the dangerous background conditions accumulating in our society. Yes, we have made huge gains in lead reduction from gasloine and from lead paint, etc., but that is only dealing with some of the major exposures… the rest go on, to continue to greatly affect public health stauts and trends. If bone lead studies were to become a primary tool widely used in conjunction with blood lead testing, all of this issue would become much more clear… and there would be long overdue political pressure for much better assessment and prevention of lead poisoning devastation.

  143. #144 Ray Kinney
    Oregon
    January 29, 2016

    Researchers that know much of this are usually far more silent than they need to be because they will suffer consequences of reduced funding for research if they make too many waves with the politic that seems to wrongly believe than putting all the science ‘out there’ on the table would be politically and fiscally subversive. The government controls the purse-strings, and bias the science, often away from appropriate public health and overall societal longer term wellbeing. When scientists, retire from their careers, they should far more often ‘find a voice’ to adequately inform a better world. There is too much to do for our great great grandchildren, for them to remain silent. IMHO

  144. #145 Ray Kinney
    Oregon
    January 29, 2016

    If, we were to accurately add up all of the costs to society brought on by this perversion of the science paradigm, we would become outraged at the failure of our system to better incorporate a more precautionary approach to how we conduct business at the expense of societal wellbeing. Sure, we are all addicted to having many nice things provided by business, but addiction has many obvious and many more hidden costs… that government/industry do not want us to look closely at.

  145. #146 Lisa
    Detroit
    January 30, 2016

    From recent emails, it appears that Detroit terminated its contract with Flint which seemed to be standard operating procedure after being notified of Flint’s intention to use another water source. In the same series of emails, Detroit makes several offers to Flint to continue supplying water. Each offer is lower than the last and the final one was cheaper than the new arrangement to use the Flint River. I cant help but think that if we follow the money so to speak, we will find that the Lansing crew supported this change because it stands to benefit donor-
    friends. This Karengondi Project was to go through at all costs. Now we see the costs. Shameful.

  146. #147 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    February 3, 2016
  147. #148 Kurt Healy
    United Kingdom
    February 9, 2016

    Founder of Nestle once said “water is not a privilege and should be paid for” – I’ll happily place money on it that water rates will rise with something along the lines of “we dont want a repeat of Flint, so the price is justified as we take great measures to see you’re poisoned properly”. Its all speculation but I often have a decent gut feeling. I hope for all the best for the people living this outrageous nightmare

  148. #149 Gunnar
    February 10, 2016

    Perhaps public execution is a proper solution?

  149. […] problem, the water was not properly treated. So it leeched lead from old lead pipes, leading to high levels of lead in many parts of the city with older pipes, which, not coincidentally, happened to be in the poorer […]

  150. #151 Lois Lane
    SE Michigan
    February 24, 2016

    Yes poor management of the Flint water system is a public health disaster and the causes for some of the poor decision making (namely not to treat the water to minimize the risk of leaching lead out of pipes) needs to be identified and addressed. However, the incidence of children with unacceptably high lead level has increased from 21 kids out of 1000 to 4 kids out of 1000. While we should work to eliminate as much lead exposure as possible, this does not seem to warrant the level of hysteria that it is causing. The other interesting observation I would make is that low income children are substantially more at risk for lead poisoning due to substandard housing with older lead based and peeling paint. Since Flint water was being used by households of all income levels, will we see higher income kids showing more lead exposure.

    In addition, to put the Flint crisis into prespective, according to CDC collected data from state heath departments: in 1997 17% of children under 6 years old had lead levels over 10 mcg/dl. By 2006, that number dropped below 2%, and was 0.46% in 2014. In 2013, the CDC dropped the level of lead that required evaluation and follow up to 5mcg/dl. Treatment of lead exposure is generally limited to eliminating sources of ongoing exposure and correcting nutritional deficiencies. Chelation therapy is reserved for lead levels over 45 mcg/dl.

  151. #152 Lois Lane
    SE Michigan
    February 24, 2016

    The above figures (17%, 2%, and 0.46%) from the CDC are for Michigan only.

  152. #154 Lois Lane
    SE Michigan
    February 24, 2016

    One more thought: Flint river water has been referred to a more corrosive than the Detroit river water or water from Lake Huron. The corrosiveness of water is a product of hardness, alkalinity and pH. It does not mean that the water is intrinsically dangerous, or harmful to drink. People will talk distainfully about how Flint water is highly corrosive without understanding what that really means.

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