Monday, January 25, 2016

Flint Water: A Political Football. Part 2

I am not really interested in the 'who knew what when' cloak and dagger chase that's going on now.  I really want to know what the data was showing and when that information was known. I need that to speculate an explanation for why it went down this way.

I am, at this point, not on the bandwagon of asking the Governor to resign. What I have seen so far is the asking of questions and relying on the information received from folks who are supposed to be knowledgeable in this area.  What I see - as I edit this post two days later - is poor knowledge of what was supposed to be done by Flint and the MDEQ.

The EPA memo is informative as it provides some actual data that shows the concentration of lead in the drinking water and in the blood of the children in that home.

Here is what the EPA memo tells us as it relates to data on lead:
February 18, 2015: The City of Flint tests the drinking water at the Walters residence for lead and iron. Tests reveal high lead in the drinking water (104 ug/L).
We have one house looked at.  The City of Flint reports 104 ppb of lead.  In mid-February, we have knowledge of lead in the drinking water at one house.
February 26, 2015: The Walters have their children’s blood lead levels tested and their child’s blood lead level is 3 ug/dL.
This is important here.  We now know that the lead exposure has most likely resulted in uptake by a child. The twins show elevated blood-lead levels (BLL) which are higher than they were when tested in October of 2012.  Dates are important here.  The switch to the Flint River was made in April 2014. In 2012 the Walters children had BLL of 2 ug/dL.

Even though the blood-lead levels are below "elevated" (5 ug/dL), there is an increase of lead into their system. Where is it coming from?

It is reasonable to assume that the drinking water may be the source of the lead, but it also may not be, or - may be one source out of a few likely culprits.

The Walters home appears to be an older home and the family moved into the house in June of 2011.  The EPA says the "home was renovated" which could mean that lead-based paint was removed.  We cannot blame the water entirely without ruling out the house and property as a source for the increase in the BLL.

So...what we know is this. Higher BLL in two children and 104 ug/L of lead in the water tested by the City.

That data is important.  Because the City of Flint performs a flush before taking the sample.  We can assume that the pre-flush protocol was most likely followed with this sample.

A lot of assumptions here. That's the nature of the beast.  You should hopefully be a bit empathetic for a Governmental Official who is not an environmental scientist or Public Health official that has to make sense of this and report it back to the public. Too many "but it could be..." to make that an easy job.

Back to the data.  104 ug/L of lead in the water and 3 ug/dL of lead in the child occupant's blood.

The EPA is made aware of the concentration of lead in the water on Feb 25th.

The kids' BLL are tested again on Feb 26th. I can assume the EPA is made aware of that data about the same time.
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 (ppb).
Interesting.  Why the spike?  Speculation falls on this bit of information:
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.
Ahhh...the old rule of unintended consequence, Go after one baddie and another baddie gets away.

That's speculation mind you, but I am confident that this was the case based on this report for the EPA that states:
 In practical case studies, coagulation with a chloride-based coagulant (e.g., ferric chloride) tended to increase lead leaching from simulated copper joints... 
So by the date of this EPA memo, June 24, 2015, a bunch of people...

...are made aware that the lead in the water at one house was 104 ug/L and then jumped to 397 ug/L after ferric chloride was added.  Those results were collected and report by the City of Flint. All these folks are now made aware that the children in this home had an increase in their BLL from 2 to 3 ug/dL.

What happens next?

Next post: Flint Water: A Political Football.  Part 3

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