Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Flint Water: A Political Football. Part 12

Speculation: The Flint Water System was not set up to treat drinking water, especially the type of water, with its wacky water chemistry. They lacked the knowledge, the chemistry, and treatment prowess necessary to get this done in 10 months when the Flint River spigot was turned on.

Can that be supported?

Let's look at this.
  • April 25, 2014: Pipes carrying Flint River water are opened; the Detroit supply is shut off.
  • February 18, 2015  The City of Flint tests the drinking water at the Walters residence. Tests reveal high lead in the drinking water (104 ug/L)
That Feb 18th date is critical on what was known by whom and when.  Look what also happened on February 18th:
"The city has reduced levels of TTHM, and now all (testing) sites are in compliance," said Rob Nicholas, vice president for Veolia, the consultant that city officials introduced during a news conference just last week. "(The problems) are less about the water itself and more about the (transmission pipes)." [source]
Who or what is Veolia?
Veolia is the world's largest water services and technology company. Its team started work in Flint last week and is being paid $40,000 to assess how city water is tested and distributed, including water treatment processes and operations, laboratory testing and analysis. [source]
"Last week" would have been around February 11th. The Flint River water has been flowing into the Flint Water pipes now for around nine months.  The City of Flint now brings in Veolia to report on whats going on. Here is what we are told on March 12, 2015:
The City of Flint has made a number of good decisions regarding treatment changes that have improved water quality. However, this is a very complex water quality issue and the City is seeking additional advice on what to do to ensure healthful drinking water for the community.
Let's look at this change described in Del Toral's EPA memo:
  • March 2015: The City of Flint increases the Ferric Chloride dosage used in the filtration process to improve the removal of disinfection byproduct precursor material, in an effort to lower the TTHM levels.
  • March 03, 2015: The City of Flint re-tests lead levels in drinking water at Walters’ residence. The lead level measured is 397 ug/L
You do see the dates, and you do see the findings, correct?
The review of the water quality records during the time of Veolia’s study shows the water to be in compliance with State and Federal regulations, and, based on those standards, the water is considered to meet drinking water requirements. [source]
Consultant speak for 'WE never said it was safe...'

But I digress. Can I support my speculation that the City of Flint, a purchaser of treated water for many years, was in no way, shape, or form to treat water being pulled from the Flint River. All of these issues can be blamed on the decision to use Flint River water without an adequate understanding of not just how to treat it, but having the ability, know-how, and understanding of how to treat that water.

Let me show you exhibit one from the Veolia report:
The amount of testing and resulting changes in chemical dosages, along with monitoring the impact on the water, will require a well-documented process that all operators follow. An example of this is jar testing, which is used by the operators to identify the most effective chemicals and dosages to optimize treatment.
No jar testing kind of means ya aint ready for water treatment.  Its kind of like not having a pipe wrench when you call yourself a plumber.
The staff understands the basic treatment process but needs further practice and training to become proficient in the use of routine process control to adjust for water quality.
Flint River water was way beyond 'basic' treatment.
...that a desired water treatment quality is defined and variations from it signal alarms and that the staff knows what to do when the water quality setpoints begin to drift away from its desired quality levels. 
Figuring this out 10 months into the use of the water is...well...a sign that you ignored the folks telling you not to go this route.  Flint was not ready to treat Flint River water. I think if you ask enough people that were present during this discussion, you will find this was known at the time but ignored by a higher up. Once that happened everyone falls in line, gives their tacit approval while holding up their proof that they tried to let them know.

But the engineers agreed to it! Yeah...just like they did with the Challenger disaster. file this one under my pipe wrench analogy as well:
The City has already purchased a TTHM analyzer but should also consider a TOC analyzer that can be an online continuous device to provide immediate information on influent and effluent levels of TOC. 
Really...and you call yourself a drinking water producer?

And now, exhibit two!
A good demonstration of skill level is for the staff to become certified by the State as a licensed water plant operator. Many utilities now require all operators to hold at least the minimum certification level as a starting point and offer incentives to increase their certification level.
So...they had no certified staff responsible for treating this water?  They did not understand this skill level when they decided to treat the Flint River water?

How we got to today is a decision to treat Flint River water without the capability and knowledge required to treat it.

SPECULATION: Someone brought this up to the folks in charge at the appropriate time. I guarantee it! Someone told them it was going to be a problem and what those problems would be. Someone - or a bunch of them - understood the water chemistry issues.

Next post: Flint Water: A Political Football.  Part 13

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