Lead in Flint, Michigan’s Drinking Water: Federal Regulatory Role

Source: Mary Tieman, Congressional Research Service, CRS Insight, IN10446, February 16, 2016

Lead exposure is a major public health concern, particularly because low-level exposures can impair the neurodevelopment of children. The main source of lead in drinking water is the corrosion of plumbing materials in the distribution system. Corrosion control can prevent lead and other metals in water lines, pipes, plumbing, and fixtures from leaching into drinking water. In April 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan, stopped purchasing treated water from the city of Detroit and began using the Flint River as its water source without providing corrosion control treatment. While water quality changes were quickly apparent, elevated lead concentrations were detected over a longer period through monitoring conducted by the city and others and detections of elevated blood lead levels in children. On October 1, 2015, Flint city officials urged residents to stop drinking the water. On October 16, Flint reconnected to Detroit’s water and advised residents not to use unfiltered tap water. The city of Flint and the governor of Michigan have each declared a state of emergency. President Obama issued an emergency declaration on January 16, 2016. On January 21, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an emergency order to the city and state, directing them to take immediate actions to address concerns over the safety of the city’s water system. Regulatory implementation, monitoring protocols, compliance, oversight issues, and the lead regulation itself have been identified as contributing factors in the failure to effectively prevent, identify, and respond to high lead levels in Flint’s drinking water…..