On a rainy Saturday in Flint several years after the start of the water crisis, community members gathered at the New Jerusalem Full Gospel Baptist Church to learn about their tap water.
The meeting was sponsored by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The organization has been there since January 2016 on emergency order to help get clean drinking water delivered to residents.
“We want that extra protection for these people because they’ve already been exposed too much,” said the EPA’s community involvement coordinator, Diane Russell.
Sarah Bailey, a community investigator, welcomed attendees as they arrived, and made sure that everyone who attended received their $20 stipend.
A breakfast buffet was set up in the back of the room, with plenty of water bottles available. About 35 people sat at the rectangular metal tables covered in purple tablecloths. The majority of attendees were African-American and over 50.
The EPA set up a table of their own with informational pamphlets, as did the Genesee County Health Department and the local Community Outreach Resident Education Program, or CORE.
The main speaker was Flint resident Donald Moses, whose interactive presentation included information on the water cycle and water filters.
Moses emphasized three components of the water delivery system; water, pipes or infrastructure, and people. He asked the audience to repeat these components a few times throughout his presentation.
After establishing the basics, Moses went on to talk about lead, which can dissolve in water so that it’s invisible, or show up as small black particles. He said that lead can enter drinking water from old service lines and pipes, which is how Flint residents’ water became contaminated. When the city first switched from using Detroit River water to the more acidic Flint River water, corrosion control chemicals weren’t added, which would have helped to coat pipes and prevent lead from leaching out into drinking water.
After the lead problem was discovered, Flint residents were told to let their water run before they drank it so that chemicals would coat the pipes. However, the Flint water corroded their pipes more, worsening the problem. Phosphate, a corrosion control chemical, began being added to the water about a year ago.
One speaker stressed the difference between exposure, hazard and risk, using sheep and wolves to illustrate the point.
Moses also talked about the importance of testing tap water to figure out possible exposure. Only about five residents at the meeting had already tested their water, and one man has found black lead chips in his tap water.
Finally, Moses encouraged citizens to make a plan to reduce their lead contamination, whether it be by sampling their water or installing a filter.
Shucon Hall, a CORE volunteer, helps citizens install filters for free. According to Hall, only cold water should be run through filters as hot water can expand them and make them less effective. However, when lead-contaminated water is boiled, the lead becomes stronger and more concentrated.
CORE has visited over 90,000 homes in Flint to discuss water safety and install filters. Hall said the organization does about 1,500 home visits per day.
“We want to have the cleanest water possible at this time and the filters are what’s going to deliver that to us,” said Hall
The community meeting was the first of four put together by Tim Dvonch, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan. Dvonch is trying to identify the most vulnerable communities affected by the water crisis and offer them basic information.