Michigan's Flint water crisis will remain one of the worst water crises in recent history. Certainly, the issue goes beyond the quality of water and toward other issues like governance and accountability, poverty and the environment.

Here, a Legionella testing company weighs in on the lessons that can be gleaned from this catastrophic event. But first, here’s a little background on the events that led to the crisis.

In 2014, Flint's water supply was switched by the state management to the Flint River as part of a cost-cutting measure. However, this move proved catastrophic as the authorities failed in requiring the use of an anti-corrosive agent for the new water supply. Afterwards, reports came in that the water from the new supply was tainted with iron corrosion. Later on, a local doctor discovered elevated lead levels among the city's children, and subsequently, it was discovered that there was a high presence of lead in the water.

One of the key problems in this issue was the slow response of both state and local authorities to address the issues that led to the crisis. In other cities, the same complaints lodged by Flint residents would have elicited a prompt response and a thorough investigation from the authorities.

Flint authorities have also been roundly scored for their oversight regarding the proper way of testing for lead in the water — specifically, pre-flushing taps before collecting water samples. This has led them to underestimate the actual level of lead in the water.

Another key issue at play here is how old the infrastructures are in Flint. Many of the homes currently standing in the city were built prior to WWII and used lead pipes that run from the water mains line. Prior to the transfer to another water supply, the previous supplier utilised a compound which controlled lead levels passively. The crucial step that state and local authorities need to take to solve the crisis is to create an inventory of all the lead pipes in Flint.

One of the key ways for other cities (that are essentially in the same boat as Flint) to prevent a similar crisis is to ensure that competent individuals are made to manage the water infrastructure. Certainly, industry leaders and policy makers need to step up in order to innovate how urban water infrastructures are built, ensuring the creation of sustainable solutions and efficient management of resources — not just water, but also government funds.

 

Written by +Duncan Hollis, Aquacert