Explained: Why 1,200+ copper water lines in Flint won't be replaced

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FLINT (WJRT) (12/11/2017) - Four contractors working on Flint Mayor Karen Weaver's FAST Start initiative have replaced lead and galvanized water service lines at more than 6,000 homes and counting this year.

Crews hydro-excavate in front of a Flint home to determine the composition of its water service line.

That's all part of a goal to replace about 25,000 lead and galvanized lines that carry water from mains under the street into homes by 2020.

However, more than 1,200 homeowners have been left with questions after crews bypassed their homes, which have copper water service lines.

Laura Sullivan, a mechanical engineering professor at Kettering University, said the copper lines are much safer than lead or galvanized lines. Namely, they won't increase the amount of lead particles in the drinking water in the house.

"Copper lines won't provide -- they won't add to any amount of lead that's in your water," Sullivan said.

The issue started during the Flint water emergency, when corrosive water pumped from the Flint River ate away at the protective lining inside lead and galvanized service lines. That exposed drinking water directly to lead and metal, which allowed minute particles to flake off into the water.

As a result, thousands of Flint homes had quantities of lead in their water that far exceeded federal guidelines for what is considered safe.

Four contractors are going door to door in Flint replacing lead and galvanized service lines with copper. Before that, they are using a process called hydro-excavation to determine the composition of the water lines without digging up the yard.

Sullivan, who is a member of the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, said a copper service line is a big help in reducing lead content on water, but homeowners should still get their water tested periodically.

"If in spite of the fact they have a copper service line, if there was lead in the water, well then that bares investigating either the fixture or connections between the service line and the main," she said.

Sullivan believes could do more to educate residents about water quality.

"But it's not just sending out flyers, putting out pamphlets or inviting people to come and hear you talk," she said. "I think we need to be more active as a community in asking questions and defining the form in which we want our questions answered."

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