March 31, 2016 (Flint, Mich.) ― Mayor Karen Weaver’s Fast Start initiative has made significant progress since crews began replacing lead-tainted service lines at homes in Flint earlier this month. Some important adjustments have been made since the work began to increase worker safety and provide residents and public health officials with more information on whether the water is safe to drink.
“We’re improving the Fast Start program as we learn more from our daily pipe replacements,” Mayor Weaver said today. “The work is going well, but we still need our state lawmakers to approve the $25 million that Governor Snyder requested. That will cover half the projected cost of this program, so we’ll need additional funding from the state and federal government in order to make sure every lead-tainted pipe in the city is removed, a goal I am determined to meet so the citizens of Flint can trust that their water is safe to use again.”
Mayor Weaver kicked off the first pipe replacement on March 4 with the goal of restoring safe, clean drinking water as soon as possible to residents by replacing lead service lines with new copper pipes. Since then, city officials have discovered that some of the galvanized iron service lines leading to homes also may be tainted with lead.
As of today, March 31, the Fast Start initiative has replaced lead-tainted lines at 14 homes. Poor weather conditions will keep crews from working on the three homes set to have pipes replaced today, so the work will be rescheduled. Crews plan to check and replace service lines at five homes on Friday. The final 10 homes of phase one are scheduled to be worked on over the next week.
“While we couldn’t move as quickly as we first hoped, now we will be able to train more crews and replace pipes at many more homes more quickly, as long as we get the necessary state and federal funds,” Mayor Weaver said. “Nearly all Flint residents are still having to use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth, and many still fear their children are being exposed to lead. They deserve to have all the lead-tainted pipes replaced as soon as possible.”
The pilot phase of the Fast Start initiative is being paid for through a $500,000 contract the State of Michigan has with Rowe Professional Services Co., headquartered in Flint. To launch the next phase of the estimated $55 million, year-long program, the city plans to tap $2 million the state repaid Flint to cover the cost of reconnecting to the Detroit drinking water system last fall.
But the majority of the work can’t be done until state and federal lawmakers approve funds targeted to fix Flint’s water infrastructure system and provide health and nutrition services, educational and job training assistance, and other programs for children and adults who could be affected by lead.
To better protect Flint residents, the city now is working with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Wayne State University to have water samples taken from each home where service lines are being replaced two days before the work is done and two or four days afterward. The universities also are taking a portion of the removed line from each home for further examination.
In addition, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is sampling the water in homes a day before the replacement is done and three days afterward. The information collected by the universities and MDEQ will further help the city determine the effects the Fast Start initiative is having on making the water lead-free.
Retired National Guard Brigadier General Michael C.H. McDaniel, appointed by Mayor Weaver to coordinate Fast Start activities, said earlier this month that he knew getting 30 pipes replaced in 30 days in Fast Start’s pilot phase was a worthy goal, but also a challenge.
He noted that getting university and MDEQ water testing in place has slowed the program. “Bad weather has also played a part, as a hard rain can make the sides of the pipe excavation site unstable and endanger work crews, forcing work to stop,” said McDaniel. Replacing galvanized iron pipes also is a slower process than replacing lead pipes because a hole must be drilled horizontally next to the existing pipe and a new copper line inserted next to the old pipe, which remains in place. No new hole is needed when a lead pipe is replaced because the copper line is pulled into place as the lead pipe is removed.
“We are trying to balance urgency with precision,” McDaniel said. “We made a number of assumptions as we undertook the Fast Start initiative, knowing we didn’t have all the data we would like to have, but also knowing we had to start getting the lead out of Flint. We’ve vastly improved and speeded up the pipe removal process in just the past few weeks as we’ve gotten new information.”
The Lansing Board of Water & Light, which has replaced more than 13,500 lead service lines in Lansing over the past 12 years, continues to lend its expertise to the Fast Start project. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and MDEQ are working with the city as well.
As Fast Start moves beyond the pilot phase, city officials will continue to inform residents how homes are selected for pipe replacements, how they can let leaders know if they should be among high priority homes, and when crews are expected to start work in certain neighborhoods.
Mayor Weaver launched the Fast Start service line replacement initiative in early February after lead was discovered in the water supplying the city of 100,000. A state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source in 2014 to the Flint River without required anti-corrosive chemicals being added. The corrosive water removed a protective coating on the inside of the pipes, allowing lead to leach into the water going to businesses and homes.