Although Flint, Michigan is perhaps the most prominent example of contemporary water pollution in the United States, it’s unfortunately not alone. According to leaked documents disclosed to the Guardian, “every major US city east of the Mississippi” is at risk of contaminated water due to weak regulations that undervalue the presence of lead in a municipal water supply. Submitted by an individual with comprehensive knowledge of pollutant regulations in the United States, the documents demonstrate that water boards in cities including Detroit and Philadelphia, as well as the entire state of Rhode Island, have been using lead level assessment methods that the Environmental Protection Agency have critiqued as misleading.

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The disclosed documents do not suggest that EPA regulations have necessarily been violated. Rather, the offending parties have failed to observe EPA safety guidelines. The documents have been released via Freedom of Information Act requests by Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, researcher at Virginia Tech. Lambrinidou obtained these documents after serving on an EPA task force organized to review federal rules on lead and copper pollution that have been enforced since 1991. The documents demonstrate that cities and states have advised residents to use questionable methods when conducting official tests for lead content. “There are many ways to game the system,” says Lambrinidou. “In Flint, they went to test neighbourhoods where they knew didn’t have a problem. You can also flush the water to get rid of the lead. If you flush it before sampling, the problem will go away.”

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The recently revealed documents have emerged as the crisis in Flint has escalated, a top agency official has resigned, and President Obama has issued a scathing critique of state and local officials in Flint. “There is no robust oversight here, the only oversight is from the people getting hurt,” says Lambrinidou. “Families who get hurt, such as in Flint, are the overseers. It’s an horrendous situation. The system is absolutely failing.” Paul Schwartz, national policy coordinator of Water Alliance, also has highlighted the systemic roots of the problem. “The EPA has been in a very cozy relationship with the state regulators and the water utilities. They’ve allowed themselves to be captured and they haven’t followed the science. What we have is a recipe for a public health disaster that is much larger than what we’ve seen so far. It will take us years to get out of this situation.”

Via The Guardian

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