Flint, MI– Local officials and an administrator from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a virtual press conference this afternoon to provide an update to residents about progress being made on the Flint water system. 

Topics of discussion included service line replacement, a new educational program preparing students to work in the Flint Water Treatment Plant, and federal guidelines about lead that are in the works. 

The EPA’s Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede announced that in Flint there have been 26,000 service line excavations and 9,700 service line replacements. Mayor Sheldon Neeley said there were fewer than 500 lines yet to be replaced before completing their goal. 

“We’re going through and…making sure that no one was missed in having this opportunity to have lead service lines removed from their homes,” Neeley said. 

Even though service lines are being replaced, Neeley said they needed to work to build residents’ confidence in the water.

“Though the technology is saying that we’re better, the psychological impact of having poor water quality for a long period of time still exists,” he said. “So there is still a crisis of confidence and that’s not going to be resolved over night.” 

In addition to discussing the water itself, Thiede made a point to thank the people that work in the water departments, and said that there has been “a struggle to ensure there are enough water sector workers, and that they’ve got the training and resources they need.”

To address that problem, Thiede announced the recently finalized development of a program to train Flint high school students to work in that field. 

Delta College, which is located in Bay County, has developed a Water Environmental Technology Program that students can begin attending as soon as next semester, which starts Jan. 9th. 

“This two-year program will give them a clear path to earn an associate’s degree in this field, and potentially pursue a long-term career at the Flint Public Water System,” said Delta College President Dr. Jean Goodnow.

Goodnow said the program will allow students to “gain skills, experience and knowledge in the areas of water and wastewater treatment processes, technology, and laboratory procedures.” 

Thiede also said the EPA has been working to update the Lead and Copper Rule, which has historically helped reduce the hazards of lead and drinking water. 

“Now, among other updates to the rule, for the first time, EPA is going to require testing in all schools and daycare facilities, and when problems are identified the rule is going to require it to be fixed,” he said. “And for the first time, we will require all water systems to create a publicly accessible lead service line inventory.”

Thiede said he hopes to have news on the final rule in the coming month. 

According to a press release sent out by the EPA following the meeting, the agency still recommends Flint residents use water filters. 

“While the City of Flint has not had an exceedance of the Lead and Copper Rule’s action level (15 ppb) in the last four years, out of an abundance of caution related to construction continuing across the city that can temporarily elevate lead entering the drinking water, EPA continues to recommend residents use certified drinking-water filters at this time,” it said. 

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...