Flint, Michigan, Water Putting Residents at Risk?

Ongoing water problems in Michigan have come to a head in the town of Flint. An algae bloom in Lake Erie last summer and other problems in Michigan cities are now centered on the town of about 100,000 people about an hour-and-a-half north of Detroit.

Flint has long had problems with discolored water. The town used to use Detroit Water & Sewage Department water until switching to Flint River for their drinking water. The water got so bad that the city recently got a notice that it’s in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Flint water has earned a special distinction among cities in Michigan with water problems because its water has been known to contain huge levels of trihalomethanen (TTHM), a by-product contaminant. According to the Metro Times, city officials recently notified area residents about the contaminate by letter. The notice to Flint residents about their water says, in part, that they could be at risk if they drink what comes out of their tap.

Too much TTHM over a period of years can potentially cause liver, kidney, or central nervous system problems and possibly cancer. Though the city’s notice includes warnings to Flint residents, it also says it is theoretically safe to drink in the short-term, but people with weak immune systems, the elderly, or those with infants should ask their doctor for advice.

City officials are not making many excuses for the current situation, but are acknowledging that people might be “rattled” by the notice. TTHM is made up of a group of four chemicals that are the resulting byproduct of disinfecting water. The Flint water problem came about when the city started adding extra chlorine to the water to fend off bacteria last winter.

Eight testing locations in the Flint water system were still showing one location that surpassed maximum contamination levels. That was as of Nov. 20, but Flint city officials are still required to warn residents that they might want to boil their water to decontaminate it.

The overall decrease in TTHM and the efforts by Flint to correct problems with the water have officials optimistic that things will be resolved by early this year. The disinfectant byproduct issue is only one in a recent series of problems with Flint water, though.

Formerly, Flint took water from Lake Huron that was treated, then they switched to the Detroit water source, and finally to water directly from the Flint River. The final move is ultimately what has led to the TTHM issues and confusion and concern among residents. The Flint water problems could take until 2016 to be resolved, when the city starts using lake water again.

[Image via Wikipedia]