Flint Water Testing in the news

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Former prosecutor and journalist weigh in on the significance of Flint water crisis charges

Noah Hall, a professor of law at Wayne State University, served as special assistant attorney general for the initial investigation of state officials regarding the water crisis. He said he felt the investigation he was part of had made promising progress in court, so when Nessel’s team announced they would shut down existing cases and start anew, he was frustrated and skeptical. But now, he says, he knows he was wrong. “It looks today like my skepticism was not justified and Attorney General Nessel came through on what she promised, which was, when she shut down our investigation and terminated us — myself included — she really was building back a better investigation that was going to do more work and go even further with developing charges. And it looks like that’s exactly what’s happened over the past two years,” Hall said. Snyder faces two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty, for which he has pleaded not guilty. But other former officials face more serious charges, including former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Nick Lyon and the state’s former Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eden Wells, who have both been charged with nine felony counts of involuntary manslaughter. Hall says these new charges likely draw on decisions the Snyder Administration made back in 2012 and 2013, which set in motion the changes in Flint’s water supply that led to use of the Flint River with a lack of corrosion control. Some critics of the recent charges argue that government leaders and public servants, due to the nature of their jobs, should be permitted some benefit of the doubt, as they may have been using their best judgment to make decisions with the information that was available to them at the time. But Hall says that’s not what he thinks happened in the Flint water crisis, based on his knowledge from the initial investigation. “This was not a simple case of government officials doing the best they could and making a mistake. Quite the opposite,” he said. “These were government officials who intended to advance an agenda, and in advancing that agenda, threatened and ultimately harmed human life.”
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Michigan is divided. These 7 reforms can curb partisanship, fix government

Fresh off one of the most partisan years ever, 2021 is off to a combative start as politicians continue to squabble and protesters plan armed demonstrations despite bipartisan calls for unity and healing. “Part of the way to reduce partisanship is to create a system where people aren't terrified of being more bipartisan in their political career,” said Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, a political science professor at Wayne State University. On a smaller scale, Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature could promote bipartisanship by giving Democrats a more significant role in legislative oversight committees, according to researchers at Wayne State University. “If you have very small margins… you can control a legislature and you can really run it like some sort of dictatorship,” said Sarbaugh-Thompson. “And as has happened at the national level, oversight tends to be driven by partisanship.” The basic promise of ranked-choice voting is that if a voter’s preferred candidate finishes last or is eliminated from contention, their second choice is counted instead, giving them a continued voice in the outcome of an election. Experts say there is some evidence that such a system can reduce partisanship by encouraging more diverse candidates and alliances with third parties rather than allowing politicians to simply court their bases. “In the current system, especially in multi-candidate races, you end up attacking the person who’s closest to you, in a way, because you can more easily get their voters,” said Kevin Deegan-Krause, a political science professor at Wayne State University who is working with a group called Rank MI Vote on a potential statewide ballot initiative. “With ranked choice voting, you really have an incentive to actually be as nice as you can to the candidate next to you so that you can try and pull their voters over to you,” he said.
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How to make sure your water filter really removes lead

A problem with high levels of lead in Newark’s drinking water led the city last year to distribute water filters to residents. But that plan hit a snag this week when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alerted the city that drinking water in two of three homes it tested still had high levels of lead, despite the filters. The EPA advised Newark residents to stop drinking tap water and urged the city to supply bottled water instead (though that solution also ran into problems when the city learned some of the water had passed its expiration date). Filters certified to remove lead must undergo rigorous testing by NSF or other labs. The Water Quality Association, for instance, tests the filters with water contaminated at 150 parts per billion—10 times higher than the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb. Researchers in Flint even pushed filters to the extreme, testing with water contaminated to 1,000 ppb, and found they still removed all lead from the water. The filters distributed in Newark were activated carbon filters certified to remove lead. But not all filters can do that. “Activated carbon has a lot of surface area with nooks and crannies where chemicals can stick,” says Shawn McElmurry, a Wayne State University professor who did extensive field research during the Flint water crisis. “But it’s not infinite.” To add to the chaos, McElmurry says there could be other contaminants in the water competing for those attachment sites. And if some of those contaminants have more mass or energy, they could knock some lead loose—like throwing softballs at your Velcro wall of tennis balls. Faucet-mount filters, like those used in Flint and Newark, typically cost $20 to $40 and require several installation steps that can go awry. “These filters are not easy to get onto the faucets,” McElmurry says. “We found that a lot of people in Flint with arthritis or poor motor function in their hands couldn’t attach them.” 
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Flint water switch led to most Legionnaires’ cases

Most of the more than 90 Legionnaires’ disease cases during the deadly 2014-15 outbreak in the Flint area were caused by changes in the city’s water supply — and the epidemic may have been more widespread than previously believed, according to two studies published Monday. “There was clearly a large proportion of cases that can be attributed to the switch in the water,” said Shawn McElmurry, an environmental engineering associate professor at Wayne State University who leads the research partnership. “While there may not have been a good enough epidemiological investigation at the time, and the data may not have been collected..., this makes it very clear that the increase in the Legionnaires’ cases is attributable to the change in water quality.” 
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WSU prof: State officials stalled Flint water tests

A Wayne State University professor tasked by Gov. Rick Snyder with helping investigate whether the Flint area Legionnaires’ outbreak was connected to the switch to the Flint River said on Friday state officials tried to stall his team so they didn’t find anything in the water system. Shawn McElmurry, an environmental engineering associate professor hired by the state, testified Friday in the preliminary hearing of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon that the group was being set up to fail. He also worried the budget limits for the 2016 study would hinder his sampling and research because he wouldn’t be able to hire as many staffers as necessary.
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Lead not likely the cause of increased cases of legionnaires’ disease in Flint but…

Researchers from Wayne State University are working to identify why the number of people with Legionnaires’ Disease spiked during the Flint water crisis. The study, in its second year, is expanding to include an examination of the disease in Wayne County. Legionnaires Disease is a form of pneumonia that often hits people over the age of 50 and those with underlying immune system problems. Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Director of Research at Wayne State University, Paul Kilgore, and Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at Wayne State,  Shawn McElmurry, spoke with WDET’s Amy Miller. McElmurry says Legionella bacteria is readily found in the environment.