Mayor's Office

Number of Service Lines that Need Replacing in Flint Rises to 29,100, According to Study

December 1, 2016 (FLINT, Mich) — Mayor Karen Weaver announced today that a study by University of Michigan professors working with leaders of her FAST Start initiative estimates as many as 29,100 Flint residences have lead or galvanized steel service lines that need to be replaced.

The number is nearly twice the 15,000 the mayor estimated would need replacing when she kicked off her FAST Start pipe replacement program in February. The latest number is based on inspections of service lines leading to 159 homes using a Hydrovac to flush dirt from around the pipes near the curb. Based on the results, the study estimates about 52 percent of the total number of service lines leading to 55,000 parcels in the City of Flint need replacing.

“These findings make it even more imperative that the state and federal government step up to pay for replacing the lead-tainted service lines leading to residents’ homes,” Mayor Weaver said. “Even though by using filters many are able to drink the water, the lead and galvanized steel service lines still must be replaced so Flint residents don’t have to worry about lead-tainted water coming into their homes through no fault of their own.”

Google helped fund the study, which was conducted by Jacob Abernethy, U-M assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Eric Schwartz, U-M assistant professor of marketing; and U-M graduate students Arya Farahi and Jared Webb. Nicholas Anderson, who is assisting FAST Start coordinator Michael McDaniel with the pipe replacement program, and Ryan Doyle of the Michigan Department of Transportation also participated.

While they took into consideration what crews found as they replaced lead-tainted service lines leading to nearly 300 homes earlier this year, the study’s authors focused on the lines inspected using the Hydrovac since those inspections took in a broader group of homes, including those less likely to have lead or galvanized steel pipes than the homes targeted so far by FAST Start.

Retired Brigadier General Michael McDaniel, who’s coordinating the FAST Start initiative, said the study showed about 17,500 homes would need full service line replacements and 11,600 would need partial replacements.

Both the study’s authors and McDaniel acknowledge the number of homes that need service lines replaced may be too high, since only a small number of the service lines in the city have actually been inspected or replaced. They said determining the true percentage of service lines that need replacing would require that a large-scale Hydrovac excavation project be done.

The city has fewer than 55,000 parcels that contain occupied residences, so the number of replacements needed may be lower, McDaniel said. But for now, he’s sticking with the estimate of 29,100 homes because replacing every lead-tainted service line is necessary to ensure every Flint resident has safe drinking water flowing from the tap.

“Given our unwillingness during a city public health emergency to disregard any potential residence that might need a lead-tainted service line replaced, we have assumed a conservative estimate,” he said.

The estimate was required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to comply with the requirements of the Lead-Copper Rule. Since the level of lead in the city’s water supply exceeded the federal action level of 15 parts per billion, the City of Flint must replace more than 2,000 service lines by June 30, 2017, however officials are committed to surpassing that total for 2017.

City records noting the location of lead service lines in Flint have proven to be unreliable, and records for some parcels don’t exist at all. That has left visual inspections as the only way to get an accurate assessment of where lead and galvanized steel service lines were installed.

Under FAST Start, crews continue to replace service lines in neighborhoods most likely to have lead service lines, and where a significant number of young children or seniors live. Mayor Weaver’s goal is to have service lines replaced at 1,000 homes by the end of December, although the actual number may be fewer if bad weather occurs. More homes will receive new pipes next year, with the number depending on the funding received.

The State of Michigan has set aside $25 million to pay for pipe replacements through September 2017, enough to pay for replacing pipes to about 5,000 homes. Congress right now is considering an aid package that would bring tens of millions of dollars to Flint that could be used to repair the city’s damaged water system. If the 29,100 figure proves accurate, replacing the other 28,100 service lines could cost at least $140 million. 

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who represents Flint in Washington, recently urged Congress to pass aid for the City of Flint before it ends session later this month.

“One hundred thousand people, citizens of that city, still cannot drink their water, exposed to high levels of lead,” Kildee said Tuesday on the House floor. “We have a tradition in this country of always coming together for those who are facing a crisis, for those who are in great need. It is incumbent now upon Congress to do the same, to come together to help the people of Flint.”

The mayor launched FAST Start earlier this year to get the lead out of Flint 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 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 still are being urged to drink only filtered water, and to replace their filters when needed.