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Federal State Of Emergency Over Lead-Laced Water Ends In Flint, Mich.

A sign over the Flint River in Flint, Mich. in January 2016.
Carlos Osorio
A sign over the Flint River in Flint, Mich. in January 2016.

The federal state of emergency in Flint, Mich. expires today, as the city continues to navigate a public health crisis caused by lead-laced water.

Officials are trying to reassure Flint residents that they will still have access to free bottled water, filters and cartridges, as Michigan Radio reported.

"We have heard from many residents ... that's there's a deep concern that the federal government and state are going to pack up and pull out of Flint after August 14," State Police Captain Chris Kelenske said Wednesday, according to Michigan Radio. "I'm here to tell you that that assumption is completely false. I want to be extremely clear: August 14 is just a date on the calendar."

Since President Obama issued an emergency declaration in January, the federal government has paid for 75% of the costs of the bottled water, filters and cartridges. Now, the state will pick up the entire bill. That's estimated to cost about $3.5 million every month, as Michigan Radio reported.

We've gone into depth about the roots of this crisis in a timeline that you can find here. As we have reported, the problem began when Flint switched to a new water source in 2014 in order to save money but failed to implement corrosion controls. Here's more:

"Almost immediately, residents of Flint — a majority-black city where 40 percent of people live in poverty — started complaining about the quality of the water. City and state officials denied for months that there was a serious problem.

"By that time, supply pipes had sustained major corrosion and lead was leaching into the water. The city switched back to its original water supply late last year, but it was too late to reverse the damage to the pipes."

Lead is especially dangerous for children, and can cause "learning disabilities, behavioral problems and mental retardation," the World Health Organization said.

An independent task force determined that primary responsibility for the crisis lies with a state environmental agency called the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality — though others are also to blame.

And while Flint is still in the slow process of treating its water system, the city received good news yesterday from Virginia Tech researchers who were among the first to expose the lead problem. They found "no detectable levels of the toxin in nearly half of 162 homes tested in July," as The Associated Press reported.

"This is nearing the end of the beginning of the end of the public health disaster response," said environmental engineering expert Marc Edwards, according to the wire service. "Flint water now looks like it's entering a range that's considered normal for other U.S. cities."

Flint deserves "more than what we've gotten so far," the city's mayor Karen Weaver told Morning Edition last week. She described what has gotten better in Flint – and what hasn't. "Anytime you can't just turn on your tap and drink the water, you have a problem," she said. Here's more:

"Things are, I would say, more organized as far as the distribution of the water and the filters. We have more school nurses in place than when this first started. We only had one in place and now we have nine. We've been able to hook up young people to employment opportunities where we had the National Guard doing things before.

"We had so many young people who were unemployed and weren't in school, and should be part of this process of healing their own community. And so what we've done is employing them to do the water distribution. We're employing them to deliver the food. And we've also been able to hook some of them up with the plumbers and pipe-fitters and other kids of I guess trade jobs, where they can be in an apprenticeship program and get paid and have a skill that no one can take from them."

She added: "We should not be in year three and we cannot drink our water."

The crisis in Flint has put new focus on the issue of lead in water across the country. As NPR's Jessica Pupovac reported earlier this week, approximately 6 million homes in America get their water "delivered through a lead service line."

NPR has this handy guide to find out if lead pipes bring water into your home:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.