Sunday, January 24, 2016

EPA had a 160 on staff named Miguel Del Toral who called for proper corrosion control


rollingstone |  After the initial lead readings came back, Walters became desperate. She began calling everyone from activists to random people at the regional office of the EPA. She got the attention of an EPA water expert named Miguel Del Toral, who came to her house, ran more tests and came to a startling conclusion. The water Flint used to buy from Detroit contained orthophosphate, a chemical used to control lead and copper levels in the drinking water. Del Toral wrote that once Flint changed to river water, "the orthophosphate treatment for lead and copper control was not continued." Del Toral warned that there was no chemical barrier to keep lead and copper from infiltrating Flint residents' drinking water. In plain English, Flint lacked a corrosion-control plan, something every water system in America has been required to have for years. To make matters worse, the water from the Flint River contained eight times more chloride than Detroit water. Chloride is a corrosive compound that causes pipes to rust and leach. At a time when Flint water needed more corrosion control than ever, it was getting none.

Walters gave the Del Toral document to the Michigan ACLU, which released it to the press, but it only drew attention from Michigan Radio. There was a reason for this: All of official Michigan denied there was a problem. In February, the EPA asked the MDEQ directly if the state was practicing corrosion control. MDEQ staffer Stephen Busch wrote back: "[Flint] has an optimized Corrosion Control Program [and] conducts quarterly Water Quality Parameter monitoring at 25 sites and has not had any unusual results."

This wasn't true; there was no corrosion control. Still, the state of Michigan launched a counteroffensive essentially calling anyone with concerns about Flint water a crank. "Let me start here – anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax," said Brad Wurfel, spokesman for MDEQ. (He later described Del Toral as a "rogue employee.")

Internally, the MDEQ seemed more annoyed than concerned. In July, the ACLU's Curt Guyette pushed for more details, and an MDEQ staffer e-mailed co-workers saying of the Flint situation, "Apparently it's going to be a thing now."

Eventually, the MDEQ admitted the city hadn't been doing any corrosion control with Flint's water, and no one seemed overly concerned. Wurfel essentially said they didn't have to address it for a year. "You know, if I handed you a bag of chocolate chips and a sack of flour and said, 'Make chocolate-chip cookies,' we'd still need a recipe," Wurfel told Michigan Radio. "They need to get the results from that testing to understand how much of what to put in the water to address the water chemistry."