Although technically this doesn't fall under the category as an "eco"-related blog post, it's a vitally important story that we at Water Gallery have been following for months. It actually makes sense to write it on "Eco-fact Friday" because public health issues often fall under the category of environmental concerns and the Flint tap water crisis is a public health issue of the highest order. As a result of one of the worst examples of cost-cutting measures and poor testing protocol this country has ever seen, Flint residents will likely be suffering for decades to come. But a recent study conducted by the publication The Guardian has shown that Flint is not the only city that has used testing "cheats" to potentially hide dangerous levels of lead in tap water. And 21 cities out of the 33 that were found to be conducting testing cheats used the same testing methods as Flint. The same testing methods as the three government officials in Flint who are facing lawsuits for the roles they played in what is being said to be "one of the worst public health crises in US history." Those cities include Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. Poor testing practices in some of these cities included having employees test water safety in their own homes, asking for extra time to complete testing so that officials could replace high lead content samples with lower samples, refusal to release lead pipe maps/denying existence of lead pipes, and so forth.
The EPA has historically required a small group of households in a given city to test for lead approximately every three years. But the way officials instruct these households to test or which particular households are chosen can profoundly affect the results of the testing. And methods of testing can be highly unethical and inaccurate. For example, instructing people to "pre-flush," or run the tap water for a period of time before collecting samples for testing, can alter lead detection results. After the Flint crisis, acts like this may actually be determined to be criminal. But the EPA does not appear to be policing cities for actions like this properly.
The bottom line is, if we can't trust our federal agencies to conduct proper testing on the water that is being ingested by our children, who can we trust? The Flint water crisis has been weighing so heavily on our hearts here at Water Gallery. It's frightening to imagine the possibilities if more cities are subject to the same gross negligence and greed. This has got to stop.