October 31, 2016 (FLINT, Mich.) ― Mayor Karen Weaver today kicked off the third phase of her FAST Start initiative by announcing the neighborhoods where crews plan to replace service lines to 788 more homes this fall.
Goyette Mechanical Inc. on Tuesday will begin replacing lead and galvanized steel service lines leading from the water main to each home’s water meter. W.T. Stevens Construction Co. Inc. already has begun replacing lines for some of the Phase 3 homes. Both companies were involved in Phase 2 of FAST Start, which resulted in lead-tainted service lines at 218 homes being replaced over a six-week period and three abandoned homes having their service lines capped.
“We continue to make progress on my FAST Start initiative to get the lead out of Flint,” Mayor Weaver said. “It’s my goal that 1,000 homes have new service lines by the end of the year, and that thousands more residents get safer, cleaner drinking water next year as we continue to ramp up the pipe replacement program.”
The State of Michigan has set aside $25 million to pay for pipe replacements through September 2017, and Congress in December may appropriate $170 million that could be used by Flint and other cities to repair damaged water systems. At least 30,000 homes in Flint may have lead or galvanized steel service lines that need to be replaced.
Retired National Guard Brigadier General Michael C.H. McDaniel, who’s coordinating the FAST Start initiative, is concentrating pipe replacement work this year in areas of the city that are most likely to have lead service lines, and where a significant number of young children or seniors live.
“We want to protect our most vulnerable citizens as we prioritize where crews focus their efforts,” McDaniel said. “We know many residents are eager to get their service lines replaced, but we must be strategic. The good news is that many more neighborhoods will get their pipes replaced next year.”
AARP of Michigan volunteers have visited nearly 500 homes in the neighborhoods scheduled to get new pipes this fall, answering residents’ questions and collecting consent cards that residents must sign in order for the work to be done.
“It has been a pleasure to work with the FAST Start initiative, and the people we have met in Flint have been welcoming, gracious and sincerely happy to see us,” said Paula D. Cunningham, AARP Michigan state director. “Many of our AARP volunteers have said this has been a rewarding experience that closely aligns with our social mission. We have found this is work that absolutely needs to be done so the residents of Flint can have clean water quickly restored to their homes.”
As part of an ongoing study funded by the National Institute of Health, Wayne State University students again will be testing the water in some homes before and after the pipes are replaced. Residents must give separate permission for the water testing to be done.
Wayne State University Associate Professor Shawn McElmurry, who’s overseeing the study, said university personnel continue to study the water samples and pipes collected during Phase 2 of FAST Start, and will be returning to some of those homes to repeat the water sampling while also testing water in homes included in Phase 3. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality also may be doing some water testing.
“We want to help residents learn if their water becomes safer to use after their service lines are replaced,” McElmurry said, noting that the water is being tested for 21 metals and eight other chemicals. “Analyzing sections of the replaced pipes is helping us understand how the pipes are recovering.”
Residents whose homes are getting new service lines must flush their water for 15 minutes before the pipe replacement takes place and for at least 15 minutes after the pipes are replaced to remove sediment from their lines. Filters should be turned off and aerators removed while the pipe flushing takes place, and all water lines in the home should be flushed, McDaniel said.
In addition, residents must have an active water account to be eligible to get their lead-tainted service lines replaced with copper ones.
“One of my main goals as Flint works to recover from this water crisis was to make sure that Flint workers got a role in the pipe replacement program,” Mayor Weaver said. “I’m happy to note that both Goyette and W.T. Stevens are based in Flint.”
The mayor launched her FAST Start initiative earlier this year to help resolve a number of problems created after a state-appointed emergency manager switched the City’s water source to the Flint River in 2014 without the necessary corrosion control chemicals being added. The corrosive water removed a protective coating on the inside of the pipes, causing lead to leach into the water flowing to homes and businesses in the City of Flint.
While the level of lead in Flint’s water supply has been significantly reduced since the city switched back a year ago to water delivered from Lake Huron by the Great Lakes Water Authority, residents are still being urged to drink only filtered water, and to replace their filters when needed.
During the first phase of FAST Start earlier this year, service pipes to 33 homes were replaced, and lines to six more homes were replaced through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Combined with the Phase 2, a total of 260 residences have gotten new service lines or had the lines capped so far.