For a year and a half, tens of thousands of people in Flint, Michigan were exposed to drinking water with dangerously high levels of lead. In the wake of the crisis, water sampling methods have come under scrutiny. Rhode Island Public Radio environmental reporter Ambar Espinoza sat down with the chief of the center for drinking water quality at the Rhode Island Department of Health to learn how Rhode Island has changed its testing protocols post-Flint.
In Flint, a few government workers are facing criminal charges for failing to use the proper chemicals to prevent pipes from corroding and leaching lead, for failing to collect water samples from locations with aging pipes that are at high-risk for lead exposure among other things, and for using water sampling protocols that produced results with artificially low levels of lead.
In Rhode Island, water treatment plants use the proper corrosion control chemicals and test areas at high risk. But water sampling protocols have changed. In February, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a memo clarifying recommendations for water sampling. Rhode Island is heeding those recommendations.
June Swallow, the chief of the Center for Drinking Water Quality at the Rhode Island Department of Health, reports no state water systems are exceeding the lead action level at this time. She said some smaller systems exceeded the lead action level last year, but they no longer are.
To keep better tabs of smaller water systems, the state has increased its reporting requirements. Providence alone has approximately 35,000 lead service lines. Water utilities and homeowners share the cost of replacing them.