Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is calling for the immediate removal and replacement of aging lead pipes that continue to leach toxins into residents’ household water.
Weaver’s call comes as a congressional hearing on the Flint water crisis gets underway Wednesday, and amid reports that the FBI has joined investigations into contamination of the city’s water supply.
“I am morally obligated with every bit of the power and authority my office has to make Flint’s water safe and the city successful for the people who live and work here,” Weaver said, according to a February 2 article in the Detroit News.
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Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has noted that replacing pipes is not on his “short-term” agenda.
The mayor admitted she was unsure what it would cost to replace the pipes in some 30,000 Flint households, but firmly noted it “must happen immediately.” She added that the homes of pregnant women and families with children younger than 6 years old were the highest priority. Lead poisoning can cause permanent brain damage and a host of neurological and cognitive disorders in young children. Pregnant women who are exposed to lead through contaminated water run the risk of pre-term delivery, miscarriage, and hypertension.
Flint has struggled with high levels of lead in its water supply since the city in April 2014, under emergency management, began to source its water from the historically polluted and highly corrosive Flint River. Prior to the switch, Flint had received water from Lake Huron, under an agreement with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). Thousands of households became exposed to lead as it leached from old pipes into the water supply when Flint opted for the cheaper option.
Medical professionals estimate that 9,000 children in Flint have been exposed to lead via the water supply since April 2014, while research conducted last summer revealed that the percentage of children with elevated lead levels had doubled in the city as a whole, and even tripled in some neighborhoods following the switch.
Weaver has convened a task force to begin the work of restoring community relations.
“Can you imagine becoming mayor of Flint with all of the usual problems that an urban core city has and then add to it this lead crisis?” Lansing, Michigan, Mayor Virg Bernero reportedly said in reference to Weaver, shortly after offering assistance from his own city, which has successfully eliminated lead from 13,500 pipes over a ten-year period, racking up a bill of $42 million in the process.
According to MSNBC, there are an estimated 25,000 service lines containing lead that run between water mains and the homes of 100,000 Flint residents. Citing data relevant to Lansing’s process, Weaver told reporters that replacement could be achieved at a cost of between $2,000 and $3,000 per line. She is exploring both public and private financing options for Flint’s pipe removal process.
President Obama last month declared the situation in Flint a federal emergency, making $5 million worth of federal aid available to the city. He promised to give the state of Michigan access to an $80 million fund that had been approved as part of a federal spending bill to develop the country’s water infrastructure.
It remains unclear whether or how much of these funds have been earmarked for the replacement of Flint’s lead pipes.
The Detroit Free Press reportedly gained access to a draft document detailing the governor’s plans to seek the state legislature’s approval for $30 million for a “water payment relief plan” that would at least reimburse Flint residents for contaminated water and allow them to keep their water service.
Residents have continued to receive bills—some as high as $200—for the toxic water, as well as notices of impending water shutoffs if they failed to pay. Close to 100 protesters gathered outside Flint City Hall last Monday, holding signs denouncing city and state officials for poisoning their children. Some ripped up and burned their water notices in a symbolic gesture.