A recent investigation conducted by the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. has found that 33 U.S. cities across 17 states have engaged in water testing practices that have the potential to conceal high levels of lead in drinking water, using similar methods that obscured contamination levels in Flint, Michigan. These methods were employed despite warnings made by regulators and experts, presumably as cost-saving measures. Many of the cities affected are major urban centers, including Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Tampa, just to name a few examples.
Some of the methods used to obscure lead levels included "pre-flushing", where potentially contaminated water is flushed from a house’s plumbing before it is sampled; the removal of aerators from faucets before sampling, as any lead that builds up on the device’s filter can show up in tests; favoring certain homes to be selected for testing, avoiding neighborhoods that may test positive for contamination; and in some cases, re-testing sources if contaminant levels were found to be too high.
Criminal charges were brought against three government employees that used methods such as these to cover up lead contamination in Flint, and a lawsuit has been brought against the city of Philadelphia, claiming that water testing methods used there can hide lead levels, and that high-risk homes were being left out of the testing regime.
Research has shown that no level of lead is safe for human consumption — it is a neurotoxin that accumulates both in bones and soft tissue, causing damage to the nervous system and the brain. Thousands of children in Flint are expected to suffer developmental problems as they mature, a result of being exposed to the contaminated water there.
“They make lead in water low when collecting samples for EPA compliance, even as it poisons kids who drink the water,” exclaims Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech scientist and the researcher that broke the story of the crisis in Flint. “Clearly, the cheating and lax enforcement are needlessly harming children all over the United States.
“If they cannot be trusted to protect little kids from lead in drinking water, what on Earth can they be trusted with? Who amongst us is safe?”