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Flint braces as Michigan shuts down its free bottled water sites

April 8, 2018
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After Michigan’s governor announced the state will stop providing free bottled water to residents of Flint — afflicted four years ago by lead-tainted drinking water — churches and charities said Monday they’re bracing for a surge in people seeking help.

“Normally we give out whatever a family wants,” said Bill Quarles, a deacon of the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church. “But now we may have to limit that until more supplies come in.”

The church has been handing out bottled water for the past three years, and typically sees about 100 to 200 cars a week. With fewer resources for residents, First Trinity isn’t sure what to expect when the cars come through beginning Tuesday.

Much-needed donations from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Baltimore, Maryland, aren’t expected at the church until the weekend — and contributions have already been dwindling as water crisis no longer grabs daily headlines.

“The country thinks that the water is fine,” Quarles added, “but the residents and the city of Flint do not trust what’s being said.”

The state’s decision to close the four remaining bottled water stations comes as Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday that strides have been made to reverse the high levels of lead that were found in the water supply.

Volunteers distribute bottled water to help combat the effects of the crisis when the city’s drinking water became contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan on March 5, 2016.Jim Young / Reuters file

The city’s water has tested below the federal lead and copper limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for about two years, state officials said. Levels of 4 ppb were recorded in Flint during the first three months of 2018.

“We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” Snyder said in a statement, adding that state taxpayers have given more than $350 million to the struggling city, in addition to $100 million from the federal government.

“We will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward,” Snyder said.

Residents and local officials criticized the move, noting that many in the city of 100,000 remain distrustful after their water supply was contaminated with lead for 18 months. The contamination happened in 2014 and 2015 when officials of the financially strapped city switched to using river water that wasn’t properly treated.

That untreated river water leached lead from pipes into Flint’s drinking supply, and later tests showed high lead levels in some local schoolchildren.

The state of Michigan settled a lawsuit last year agreeing to spend $87 million to rip up and replace miles of waterlines leading to at least 18,000 Flint homes by Jan. 1, 2020. More than 6,200 homes have had their pipes replaced so far, Snyder said Friday.