Tag Archives: lead poisoning

August 30, 1895: Birth of Alvin Percy Black; 1861: Lead Poisoning in Prison

August 30, 1895:  Birth of Alvin P. Black.“Born in Blossom, Texas, [on August 30] 1895, Alvin earned a B.S. Degree at Southwestern University, completed graduate studies at Iowa State College and Harvard, and received his Doctorate Degree from the University of Iowa. During World War I, he served in the Chemical Warfare Service; following that, he joined the faculty of the University of Florida in 1920 as Assistant Professor of Chemistry. During his tenure there, Dr. Black earned national and international recognition in the field of water chemistry. He served as a consultant to numerous municipalities throughout the country since 1935.

Dr. Black joined the American Water Works Association in 1929 and served as both National Director and President. He also served as a member of the National Advisory Dental Research Council of the U.S. Public Health Service, and was appointed by the Surgeon General of the United States as one of the original members of the Advisory Committee on Coagulant Aids in water treatment. Dr. Black also served as a national consultant to the Office of Saline Water of the Department of the Interior. He is considered, today, a pioneer in the design of water treatment systems.

Dr. Black was the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his work and contributions to the development of systems and techniques in the field of water purification and distribution. He was one of the original founders, along with William B. Crow and Frederic A. Eidsness, of Black, Crow and Eidsness, which became part of CH2M HILL in 1977. He passed away on February 23, 1980, at the age of 84.”

Commentary:  In 2009, I was honored to receive the A.P. Black Research Award from the American Water Works Association.  Shortly after the award was announced, I received a phone call from John V. Miner who said Doc Black was a friend, mentor and second father to him. He was kind enough to place into my care a book entitled Collected Works of A.P. Black—1933-1966. The book of Doc Black’s papers was put together by Ed Singley (a colleague and friend of mine) and Ching-lin Chen, both students of Doc Black. John Miner asked that I keep the book for as long as I wanted to but then pass it on to another. The inscription on the flyleaf of the book reads:  “To one of my sons, John Miner from Doc Black, his second Dad.”

Update: I sent the book to the University of Florida so that it could be used in a display honoring Dr. Black.

August 30, 1861:  New York Timesheadline–Fifty Prisoners in the County Jail Poisoned by Drinking Water Impregnated with Carbonate of Lead.  “On Tuesday night last, about twenty of the prisoners confined in the Kings County Jail, were seized with vomiting and purging, accompanied by other symptoms, indicating that they had partaken of some deadly poison. Dr. Charles A. Van Zandt, the Jail Physician, was at once sent for by the keepers and by judicious management succeeded in saving the lives of all attacked, numbering, up to yesterday, about 50 of the inmates of the jail. When Dr. Van Zandt examined the first case, he was considerable puzzled to know in what manner the prisoners had been poisoned, but after a while he arrived at the conclusion that it must have been from the Ridgewood water, with which the jail is supplied throughout, in the common lead pipe. Fortunately he hit upon the right cause and was able to neutralize the reflects of the poison. He at once ordered the Ridgewood water to be cut off, and directed that well water — of which there is an abundance on the premises — should be used.”

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April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply; 1926: New York Harbor a Menace

April 25, 2014:  Switch to Flint River Water Supply, Flint, MI. An article published onlinememorialized the change earlier that day from treated water from Detroit, Michigan, to the raw water supply of the Flint River and the activation of the Flint Water Plant. The photo from that article reproduced above shows local and state officials toasting each other with water from the Flint plant. I am certain that most of them would be happy to have their images removed from that and similar photographs.

About a month after the change, residents of Flint began to complain about discolored water and odors from the new water supply. The water coming out of city taps was orange, red, yellow and brown. City and State officials tried to assure Flint citizens that the water was safe to drink even after repeated failures of primary drinking water regulations:  Total Coliform Rule and the trihalomethane regulation. But the worst was yet to come.

Once the water from the Flint River was demonstrated to be more corrosive to iron and steel than water from Detroit, someone in the water department, treatment plant staff, City administration or Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, drinking water regulatory agency) should have asked the question, “What about corrosion of the 15,000 lead service lines serving water to homes in the City?”

Some stories about what happened in Flint state that the USEPA asked MDEQ if optimized treatment was being applied to prevent corrosion of lead service lines (LSLs). The MDEQ representative assured the USEPA that everything was just fine.

What we now know is that the treated Flint River water was highly corrosive to lead and levels greater than 10,000 ug/L have been found in some home samples. Hundreds of samples have been found to contain lead above the 15 ug/L State and federal action level. Young children who are most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead were exposed at high concentrations, which ultimately showed up as elevated blood lead levels in thousands of children.

It took the persistence of one mother in town, a smart, courageous doctor and an activist engineering professor to blow the whistle and get everyone to start paying attention to a public health emergency. Citizens of Flint owe a great deal to LeeAnne Walters, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards. Miguel Del Toral of the USEPA did everything that he could to ring alarm bells once he understood what was happening. Later reporting by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC brought the crisis to national attention and helped start a national discussion of the solutions needed.

Extremely high lead levels are being reported in some Flint homes many months after the shift back to Detroit water with phosphate treatment. Why is that happening? The interior surfaces of lead pipe in the Flint service area have been badly disrupted and phosphate treatment is not fixing the problem. Flint citizens should also be highly suspicious of lead results from first flush samples, which are mandated by the Lead and Copper Rule. Research has now shown that spikes of extremely high lead concentrations do not occur until more water is flushed through the system and the water that has been stagnating in lead pipes overnight is sampled and analyzed.

Here are a few questions with my best efforts to answer them.

Where did the LSLs in Flint come from and why were they installed?I found an 1897 City of Flint Ordinance that required the use of lead pipe to connect water mains to homes. I have found dozens and there must be hundreds of ordinances for other cities like this in the literature. Lead was the preferred material because other materials such as iron and steel pipes corroded away. Ironically, lead was considered a more durable material for service lines. Copper and plastic pipes were not commercially available until much later.

Why do local officials claim that water is safe to drink when it looks like orange Kool-Aid, smells like rotten eggs and tastes like sucking on a rusty nail?I have seen statements like this from city and water utility officials across the U.S. They should know by now that stating something that is clearly false to the people experiencing the delivery of bad water destroys the utility’s credibility and makes everyone angry. The only possible response is: “The water is disgusting, and even though it meets all health standards, it does not meet our standards. We are sorry. We are going to find out why this is happening and we are going to fix it.”

How in the world could this have happened? Who is responsible?Governor Rick Snyder likes to say that it happened because of a failure of government at all levels. For once, I agree with him. However, it appears to me that he says this as a way to dilute the responsibility of his administration, his state-appointed emergency manager and the state regulatory agency, the MDEQ. If the state agencies had been focused on protecting public health and not saving a few dollars, the lead poisoning disaster in Flint would never have happened. But City officials, water department personnel and the consultant who made recommendations for treatment plant upgrades also deserve some of the blame. If one person or a group of these people had stood up and raised holy hell and demanded corrosion testing of the new water supply, the crisis would have been avoided. There are lessons to learn from this disaster for everyone who is involved in serving drinking water in this country.

What about LSLs? Should they be replaced?Yes. NOW. A big mistake was made in 1991 with the adoption of the Lead and Copper Rule that did not require the replacement of all LSLs in the U.S. Also, the allowance of partial replacement of LSLs made lead exposure of the public far worse. Everyone involved in drinking water and public health should demand that the federal Lead and Copper Rule Long-Term Revisions include an accelerated schedule for replacing LSLs. Also, we should not get confused about who foots the bill. Society made the decision in the 19thand 20thcenturies to use lead pipe. The homeowners and utility personnel who installed lead pipes are long dead. The total cost for LSL replacement should be paid for by utilities (with cost recovery from increased water rates) with some help from state and federal governments to seed the process and get it done. Society caused the problem and it is up to all of us to fix it. There are 6.1 million LSLs in this country and they need to be ripped out and completely replaced without delay.

References:

Adams, D. 2014. Closing the Valve on History:  Flint Cuts Water Flow From Detroit after nearly 50 years. Michigan Live. (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/04/closing_the_valve_on_history_f.htmlAccessed April 24, 2016).

Cornwell, D.A., R.A. Brown and S.H. Via. 2016. National Survey of LSL Occurrence. Jour. AWWA. April. http://dx.doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2016.108.0086

McGuire, M.J. 2016. Flint, Michigan:  Lessons to Live By. Keynote address presented at the California Nevada Section Spring Conference, Sacramento, California. March 22.

Ordinances of the City of Flint, Michegan. Rules of the Common Council. 1897. page 142-3. (http://bit.ly/1UEq1BGAccessed March 21, 2016).

Update:  In 2017, Flint was allocated about $100 million of public money to replace their lead service lines. Society has solved one city’s problem but there are many more cities that need a total replacement of their LSLs.

April 25, 1926:  New York Times headline—Harbor Sewage Called a Menace to Health. “State Legislature Urged to Take Action to Halt Pollution of New York Waters — Many Cities Pour Their Raw Waste Into the Bay. A report just submitted to the Legislature of New York urges drastic action to protect the City of New York against the menace to health arising from the pollution of the harbor and near-by bathing beaches, not only by New York but by other cities and States. Dr. George W. Soper who was Director of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission stated that every day, 940 million gallons of sewage per day were poured into the harbor every day. He called the situation a ‘direct offense upon the sense of decency…a constant menace to health.’”

August 30, 1895: Birth of Alvin Percy Black; 1861: Lead Poisoning in Prison

August 30, 1895:  Birth of Alvin P. Black.“Born in Blossom, Texas, in 1895, Alvin earned a B.S. Degree at Southwestern University, completed graduate studies at Iowa State College and Harvard, and received his Doctorate Degree from the University of Iowa. During World War I, he served in the Chemical Warfare Service; following that, he joined the faculty of the University of Florida in 1920 as Assistant Professor of Chemistry. During his tenure there, Dr. Black earned national and international recognition in the field of water chemistry. He served as a consultant to numerous municipalities throughout the country since 1935.

Dr. Black joined the American Water Works Association in 1929 and served as both National Director and President. He also served as a member of the National Advisory Dental Research Council of the U.S. Public Health Service, and was appointed by the Surgeon General of the United States as one of the original members of the Advisory Committee on Coagulant Aids in water treatment. Dr. Black also served as a national consultant to the Office of Saline Water of the Department of the Interior. He is considered, today, a pioneer in the design of water treatment systems.

Dr. Black was the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his work and contributions to the development of systems and techniques in the field of water purification and distribution. He was one of the original founders, along with William B. Crow and Frederic A. Eidsness, of Black, Crow and Eidsness, which became part of CH2M HILL in 1977. He passed away on February 23, 1980, at the age of 84.”

Commentary:  In 2009, I was honored to receive the A.P. Black Research Award from the American Water Works Association.  Shortly after the award was announced, I received a phone call from John V. Miner who said Doc Black was a friend, mentor and second father to him. He was kind enough to place into my care a book entitled Collected Works of A.P. Black—1933-1966. The book of Doc Black’s papers was put together by Ed Singley (a colleague and friend of mine) and Ching-lin Chen, both students of Doc Black. John Miner asked that I keep the book for as long as I wanted to but then pass it on to another. The inscription on the flyleaf of the book reads:  “To one of my sons, John Miner from Doc Black, his second Dad.”

Update:  I sent the book to the University of Florida so that it could be used in a display honoring Dr. Black.

August 30, 1861: New York Timesheadline–Fifty Prisoners in the County Jail Poisoned by Drinking Water Impregnated with Carbonate of Lead.  “On Tuesday night last, about twenty of the prisoners confined in the Kings County Jail, were seized with vomiting and purging, accompanied by other symptoms, indicating that they had partaken of some deadly poison. Dr. Charles A. Van Zandt, the Jail Physician, was at once sent for by the keepers and by judicious management succeeded in saving the lives of all attacked, numbering, up to yesterday, about 50 of the inmates of the jail. When Dr. Van Zandt examined the first case, he was considerable puzzled to know in what manner the prisoners had been poisoned, but after a while he arrived at the conclusion that it must have been from the Ridgewood water, with which the jail is supplied throughout, in the common lead pipe. Fortunately he hit upon the right cause and was able to neutralize the reflects of the poison. He at once ordered the Ridgewood water to be cut off, and directed that well water — of which there is an abundance on the premises — should be used.”

April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply; 1926: New York Harbor a Menace

April 25, 2014:  Switch to Flint River Water Supply, Flint, MI. An article published online memorialized the change earlier that day from treated water from Detroit, Michigan, to the raw water supply of the Flint River and the activation of the Flint Water Plant. The photo from that article reproduced above shows local and state officials toasting each other with water from the Flint plant. I am certain that most of them would be happy to have their images removed from that and similar photographs.

About a month after the change, residents of Flint began to complain about discolored water and odors from the new water supply. The water coming out of city taps was orange, red, yellow and brown. City and State officials tried to assure Flint citizens that the water was safe to drink even after repeated failures of primary drinking water regulations:  Total Coliform Rule and the trihalomethane regulation. But the worst was yet to come.

Once the water from the Flint River was demonstrated to be more corrosive to iron and steel than water from Detroit, someone in the water department, treatment plant staff, City administration or Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, drinking water regulatory agency) should have asked the question, “What about corrosion of the 15,000 lead service lines serving water to homes in the City?”

Some stories about what happened in Flint state that the USEPA asked MDEQ if optimized treatment was being applied to prevent corrosion of lead service lines (LSLs). The MDEQ representative assured the USEPA that everything was just fine.

What we now know is that the treated Flint River water was highly corrosive to lead and levels greater than 10,000 ug/L have been found in some home samples. Hundreds of samples have been found to contain lead above the 15 ug/L State and federal action level. Young children who are most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead were exposed at high concentrations, which ultimately showed up as elevated blood lead levels in thousands of children.

It took the persistence of one mother in town, a smart, courageous doctor and an activist engineering professor to blow the whistle and get everyone to start paying attention to a public health emergency. Citizens of Flint owe a great deal to LeeAnne Walters, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards. Miguel Del Toral of the USEPA did everything that he could to ring alarm bells once he understood what was happening. Later reporting by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC brought the crisis to national attention and helped start a national discussion of the solutions needed.

Extremely high lead levels are being reported in some Flint homes many months after the shift back to Detroit water with phosphate treatment. Why is that happening? The interior surfaces of lead pipe in the Flint service area have been badly disrupted and phosphate treatment is not fixing the problem. Flint citizens should also be highly suspicious of lead results from first flush samples, which are mandated by the Lead and Copper Rule. Research has now shown that spikes of extremely high lead concentrations do not occur until more water is flushed through the system and the water that has been stagnating in lead pipes overnight is sampled and analyzed.

Here are a few questions with my best efforts to answer them.

Where did the LSLs in Flint come from and why were they installed? I found an 1897 City of Flint Ordinance that required the use of lead pipe to connect water mains to homes. I have found dozens and there must be hundreds of ordinances for other cities like this in the literature. Lead was the preferred material because other materials such as iron and steel pipes corroded away. Ironically, lead was considered a more durable material for service lines. Copper and plastic pipes were not commercially available until much later.

Why do local officials claim that water is safe to drink when it looks like orange Kool-Aid, smells like rotten eggs and tastes like sucking on a rusty nail? I have seen statements like this from city and water utility officials across the U.S. They should know by now that stating something that is clearly false to the people experiencing the delivery of bad water destroys the utility’s credibility and makes everyone angry. The only possible response is: “The water is disgusting, and even though it meets all health standards, it does not meet our standards. We are sorry. We are going to find out why this is happening and we are going to fix it.”

How in the world could this have happened? Who is responsible? Governor Rick Snyder likes to say that it happened because of a failure of government at all levels. For once, I agree with him. However, it appears to me that he says this as a way to dilute the responsibility of his administration, his state-appointed emergency manager and the state regulatory agency, the MDEQ. If the state agencies had been focused on protecting public health and not saving a few dollars, the lead poisoning disaster in Flint would never have happened. But City officials, water department personnel and the consultant who made recommendations for treatment plant upgrades also deserve some of the blame. If one person or a group of these people had stood up and raised holy hell and demanded corrosion testing of the new water supply, the crisis would have been avoided. There are lessons to learn from this disaster for everyone who is involved in serving drinking water in this country.

What about LSLs? Should they be replaced? Yes. NOW. A big mistake was made in 1991 with the adoption of the Lead and Copper Rule that did not require the replacement of all LSLs in the U.S. Also, the allowance of partial replacement of LSLs made lead exposure of the public far worse. Everyone involved in drinking water and public health should demand that the federal Lead and Copper Rule Long-Term Revisions include an accelerated schedule for replacing LSLs. Also, we should not get confused about who foots the bill. Society made the decision in the 19thand 20thcenturies to use lead pipe. The homeowners and utility personnel who installed lead pipes are long dead. The total cost for LSL replacement should be paid for by utilities (with cost recovery from increased water rates) with some help from state and federal governments to seed the process and get it done. Society caused the problem and it is up to all of us to fix it. There are 6.1 million LSLs in this country and they need to be ripped out and completely replaced without delay.

References:

Adams, D. 2014. Closing the Valve on History:  Flint Cuts Water Flow From Detroit after nearly 50 years. Michigan Live. (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/04/closing_the_valve_on_history_f.htmlAccessed April 24, 2016).

Cornwell, D.A., R.A. Brown and S.H. Via. 2016. National Survey of LSL Occurrence. Jour. AWWA. April. http://dx.doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2016.108.0086

McGuire, M.J. 2016. Flint, Michigan:  Lessons to Live By. Keynote address presented at the California Nevada Section Spring Conference, Sacramento, California. March 22.

Ordinances of the City of Flint, Michegan. Rules of the Common Council. 1897. page 142-3. (http://bit.ly/1UEq1BGAccessed March 21, 2016).

Update:  In 2017, Flint was allocated about $100 million of public money to replace their lead service lines. Society has solved one city’s problem but there are many more cities that need a total replacement of their LSLs.

April 25, 1926:  New York Times headline—Harbor Sewage Called a Menace to Health. “State Legislature Urged to Take Action to Halt Pollution of New York Waters — Many Cities Pour Their Raw Waste Into the Bay. A report just submitted to the Legislature of New York urges drastic action to protect the City of New York against the menace to health arising from the pollution of the harbor and near-by bathing beaches, not only by New York but by other cities and States. Dr. George W. Soper who was Director of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission stated that every day, 940 million gallons of sewage per day were poured into the harbor every day. He called the situation a ‘direct offense upon the sense of decency…a constant menace to health.’”

August 30, 1895: Birth of Alvin Percy Black; 1861: Lead Poisoning

August 30, 1895: Birth of Alvin P. Black. “Born in Blossom, Texas, in 1895, Alvin earned a B.S. Degree at Southwestern University, completed graduate studies at Iowa State College and Harvard, and received his Doctorate Degree from the University of Iowa. During World War I, he served in the Chemical Warfare Service; following that, he joined the faculty of the University of Florida in 1920 as Assistant Professor of Chemistry. During his tenure there, Dr. Black earned national and international recognition in the field of water chemistry. He served as a consultant to numerous municipalities throughout the country since 1935.

Dr. Black joined the American Water Works Association in 1929 and served as both National Director and President. He also served as a member of the National Advisory Dental Research Council of the U.S. Public Health Service, and was appointed by the Surgeon General of the United States as one of the original members of the Advisory Committee on Coagulant Aids in water treatment. Dr. Black also served as a national consultant to the Office of Saline Water of the Department of the Interior. He is considered, today, a pioneer in the design of water treatment systems.

Dr. Black was the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his work and contributions to the development of systems and techniques in the field of water purification and distribution. He was one of the original founders, along with William B. Crow and Frederic A. Eidsness, of Black, Crow and Eidsness, which became part of CH2M HILL in 1977. He passed away on February 23, 1980, at the age of 84.”

Commentary: In 2009, I was honored to receive the A.P. Black Research Award from the American Water Works Association. Shortly after the award was announced, I received a phone call from John V. Miner who said Doc Black was a friend, mentor and second father to him. He was kind enough to place into my care a book entitled Collected Works of A.P. Black—1933-1966. The book of Doc Black’s papers was put together by Ed Singley (a colleague and friend of mine) and Ching-lin Chen, both students of Doc Black. John Miner asked that I keep the book for as long as I wanted to but then pass it on to another. The inscription on the flyleaf of the book reads: “To one of my sons, John Miner from Doc Black, his second Dad.”

Lead service line attached to a household water meter

August 30, 1861: New York Times headline–Fifty Prisoners in the County Jail Poisoned by Drinking Water Impregnated with Carbonate of Lead. “On Tuesday night last, about twenty of the prisoners confined in the Kings County Jail, were seized with vomiting and purging, accompanied by other symptoms, indicating that they had partaken of some deadly poison. Dr. Charles A. Van Zandt, the Jail Physician, was at once sent for by the keepers and by judicious management succeeded in saving the lives of all attacked, numbering, up to yesterday, about 50 of the inmates of the jail. When Dr. Van Zandt examined the first case, he was considerable puzzled to know in what manner the prisoners had been poisoned, but after a while he arrived at the conclusion that it must have been from the Ridgewood water, with which the jail is supplied throughout, in the common lead pipe. Fortunately he hit upon the right cause and was able to neutralize the reflects of the poison. He at once ordered the Ridgewood water to be cut off, and directed that well water — of which there is an abundance on the premises — should be used.”

April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply; 1926: New York Harbor a Menace

April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply, Flint, MI. An article published online memorialized the change earlier that day from treated water from Detroit, Michigan, to the raw water supply of the Flint River and the activation of the Flint Water Plant. The photo from that article reproduced above shows local and state officials toasting each other with water from the Flint plant. I am certain that most of them would be happy to have their images removed from that and similar photographs.

About a month after the change, residents of Flint began to complain about discolored water and odors from the new water supply. The water coming out of city taps was orange, red, yellow and brown. City and State officials tried to assure Flint citizens that the water was safe to drink even after repeated failures of primary drinking water regulations: Total Coliform Rule and the trihalomethane regulation. But the worst was yet to come.

Once the water from the Flint River was demonstrated to be more corrosive to iron and steel than water from Detroit, someone in the water department, treatment plant staff, City administration or Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, drinking water regulatory agency) should have asked the question, “What about corrosion of the 15,000 lead service lines serving water to homes in the City?”

Some stories about what happened in Flint state that the USEPA asked MDEQ if optimized treatment was being applied to prevent corrosion of lead service lines (LSLs). The MDEQ representative assured the USEPA that everything was just fine.

What we now know is that the treated Flint River water was highly corrosive to lead and levels greater than 10,000 ug/L have been found in some home samples. Hundreds of samples have been found to contain lead above the 15 ug/L State and federal action level. Young children who are most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead were exposed at high concentrations, which ultimately showed up as elevated blood lead levels in thousands of children.

It took the persistence of one mother in town, a smart, courageous doctor and an activist engineering professor to blow the whistle and get everyone to start paying attention to a public health emergency. Citizens of Flint owe a great deal to LeeAnne Walters, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards. Miguel Del Toral of the USEPA did everything that he could to ring alarm bells once he understood what was happening. Later reporting by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC brought the crisis to national attention and helped start a national discussion of the solutions needed.

Extremely high lead levels are being reported in some Flint homes many months after the shift back to Detroit water with phosphate treatment. Why is that happening? The interior surfaces of lead pipe in the Flint service area have been badly disrupted and phosphate treatment is not fixing the problem. Flint citizens should also be highly suspicious of lead results from first flush samples, which are mandated by the Lead and Copper Rule. Research has now shown that spikes of extremely high lead concentrations do not occur until more water is flushed through the system and the water that has been stagnating in lead pipes overnight is sampled and analyzed.

Here are a few questions with my best efforts to answer them.

Where did the LSLs in Flint come from and why were they installed? I found an 1897 City of Flint Ordinance that required the use of lead pipe to connect water mains to homes. I have found dozens and there must be hundreds of ordinances for other cities like this in the literature. Lead was the preferred material because other materials such as iron and steel pipes corroded away. Ironically, lead was considered a more durable material for service lines. Copper and plastic pipes were not commercially available until much later.

Why do local officials claim that water is safe to drink when it looks like orange Kool-Aid, smells like rotten eggs and tastes like sucking on a rusty nail? I have seen statements like this from city and water utility officials across the U.S. They should know by now that stating something that is clearly false to the people experiencing the delivery of bad water destroys the utility’s credibility and makes everyone angry. The only possible response is: “The water is disgusting, and even though it meets all health standards, it does not meet our standards. We are sorry. We are going to find out why this is happening and we are going to fix it.”

How in the world could this have happened? Who is responsible? Governor Rick Snyder likes to say that it happened because of a failure of government at all levels. For once, I agree with him. However, it appears to me that he says this as a way to dilute the responsibility of his administration, his state-appointed emergency manager and the state regulatory agency, the MDEQ. If the state agencies had been focused on protecting public health and not saving a few dollars, the lead poisoning disaster in Flint would never have happened. But City officials, water department personnel and the consultant who made recommendations for treatment plant upgrades also deserve some of the blame. If one person or a group of these people had stood up and raised holy hell and demanded corrosion testing of the new water supply, the crisis would have been avoided. There are lessons to learn from this disaster for everyone who is involved in serving drinking water in this country.

What about LSLs? Should they be replaced? Yes. NOW. A big mistake was made in 1991 with the adoption of the Lead and Copper Rule that did not require the replacement of all LSLs in the U.S. Also, the allowance of partial replacement of LSLs made lead exposure of the public far worse. Everyone involved in drinking water and public health should demand that the federal Lead and Copper Rule Long-Term Revisions include an accelerated schedule for replacing LSLs. Also, we should not get confused about who foots the bill. Society made the decision in the 19th and 20th centuries to use lead pipe. The homeowners and utility personnel who installed lead pipes are long dead. The total cost for LSL replacement should be paid for by utilities (with cost recovery from increased water rates) with some help from state and federal governments to seed the process and get it done. Society caused the problem and it is up to all of us to fix it. There are 6.1 million LSLs in this country and they need to be ripped out and completely replaced without delay.

References:

Adams, D. 2014. Closing the Valve on History: Flint Cuts Water Flow From Detroit after nearly 50 years. Michigan Live. (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/04/closing_the_valve_on_history_f.html Accessed April 24, 2016).

Cornwell, D.A., R.A. Brown and S.H. Via. 2016. National Survey of LSL Occurrence. Jour. AWWA. April. http://dx.doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2016.108.0086

McGuire, M.J. 2016. Flint, Michigan: Lessons to Live By. Keynote address presented at the California Nevada Section Spring Conference, Sacramento, California. March 22.

Ordinances of the City of Flint, Michegan. Rules of the Common Council. 1897. page 142-3. (http://bit.ly/1UEq1BG Accessed March 21, 2016).

Update: In 2017, Flint was allocated about $100 million of public money to replace their lead service lines. Society has solved one city’s problem but there are many more cities that need a total replacement of their LSLs.

April 25, 1926: New York Times headline—Harbor Sewage Called a Menace to Health. “State Legislature Urged to Take Action to Halt Pollution of New York Waters — Many Cities Pour Their Raw Waste Into the Bay. A report just submitted to the Legislature of New York urges drastic action to protect the City of New York against the menace to health arising from the pollution of the harbor and near-by bathing beaches, not only by New York but by other cities and States. Dr. George W. Soper who was Director of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission stated that every day, 940 million gallons of sewage per day were poured into the harbor every day. He called the situation a ‘direct offense upon the sense of decency…a constant menace to health.’”

August 30, 1895: Birth of Alvin Percy Black; 1861: Lead Poisoning

0830 AP BlackAugust 30, 1895: Birth of Alvin P. Black. “Born in Blossom, Texas, in 1895, Alvin earned a B.S. Degree at Southwestern University, completed graduate studies at Iowa State College and Harvard, and received his Doctorate Degree from the University of Iowa. During World War I, he served in the Chemical Warfare Service; following that, he joined the faculty of the University of Florida in 1920 as Assistant Professor of Chemistry. During his tenure there, Dr. Black earned national and international recognition in the field of water chemistry. He served as a consultant to numerous municipalities throughout the country since 1935.

Dr. Black joined the American Water Works Association in 1929 and served as both National Director and President. He also served as a member of the National Advisory Dental Research Council of the U.S. Public Health Service, and was appointed by the Surgeon General of the United States as one of the original members of the Advisory Committee on Coagulant Aids in water treatment. Dr. Black also served as a national consultant to the Office of Saline Water of the Department of the Interior. He is considered, today, a pioneer in the design of water treatment systems.

Dr. Black was the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his work and contributions to the development of systems and techniques in the field of water purification and distribution. He was one of the original founders, along with William B. Crow and Frederic A. Eidsness, of Black, Crow and Eidsness, which became part of CH2M HILL in 1977. He passed away on February 23, 1980, at the age of 84.”

Commentary: In 2009, I was honored to receive the A.P. Black Research Award from the American Water Works Association. Shortly after the award was announced, I received a phone call from John V. Miner who said Doc Black was a friend, mentor and second father to him. He was kind enough to place into my care a book entitled Collected Works of A.P. Black—1933-1966. The book of Doc Black’s papers was put together by Ed Singley (a colleague and friend of mine) and Ching-lin Chen, both students of Doc Black. John Miner asked that I keep the book for as long as I wanted to but then pass it on to another. The inscription on the flyleaf of the book reads: “To one of my sons, John Miner from Doc Black, his second Dad.”

Lead service line attached to a household water meter

Lead service line attached to a household water meter

August 30, 1861: New York Times headline–Fifty Prisoners in the County Jail Poisoned by Drinking Water Impregnated with Carbonate of Lead. “On Tuesday night last, about twenty of the prisoners confined in the Kings County Jail, were seized with vomiting and purging, accompanied by other symptoms, indicating that they had partaken of some deadly poison. Dr. Charles A. Van Zandt, the Jail Physician, was at once sent for by the keepers and by judicious management succeeded in saving the lives of all attacked, numbering, up to yesterday, about 50 of the inmates of the jail. When Dr. Van Zandt examined the first case, he was considerable puzzled to know in what manner the prisoners had been poisoned, but after a while he arrived at the conclusion that it must have been from the Ridgewood water, with which the jail is supplied throughout, in the common lead pipe. Fortunately he hit upon the right cause and was able to neutralize the reflects of the poison. He at once ordered the Ridgewood water to be cut off, and directed that well water — of which there is an abundance on the premises — should be used.”