Flint, Michigan is now infamous for its toxic water supply, but a study by the Guardian reveals that no fewer than 33 cities in 17 American states cheat when it comes to water testing—meaning they could possibly be concealing dangerous levels of lead in their water, too.
In Flint, a decision to cut costs by making a polluted river the source of the city's water was compounded by a lousy water-testing system and outdated infrastructure. Dangerous amounts of lead—enough to cause developmental and other health problems in children—were present but ignored until public outcry came to a head thanks to mounting health issues and discolored, undrinkable water.
Turns out that lousy system is pretty much the same one that's being used in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit.
The Guardian's investigation shows that in many cities across America, water-testing methods may underestimate levels of lead, thereby violating EPA guidelines, which were updated nine years ago. After contacting 81 of the most populated cities east of the Mississippi, the investigators found that current federal standards were not being followed in many cities.
Testers also used practices such as pre-flushing pipes, running water slowly, and removing aerators—all of which can reduce the reporting of lead content in water. Another method of camouflaging the amount of lead in a city's water supply is to remove high-risk homes from test groups; several of the cities named in the investigation do just that. Testers have been found to cheat the system—and to be instructed to do so by their superiors.
After being declared a federal state of emergency, Flint changed its testing methods to eliminate distortions. But other cities? They haven't gotten around to doing so yet. Philadelphia is accused of having the worst water testing in the US, with testers in the City of Brotherly Love having been found to use methods that outright mask the presence of lead.
Recent studies show that no level of lead is OK for children's health. An overconsumption of lead has also been linked to learning disabilities and even a likelihood of committing violent crime.
The problem may be even worse than the Guardian's report reveals: Some of these larger cities also sell their water to nearby towns. Cities on the East Coast of the US are also at greater risk of lead contamination in water than those on the West Coast, due to aging infrastructure.
Sadly, it seems as if American cities would rather ignore and obfuscate the swelling issue instead of addressing it head on and risk becoming the next Flint.