State requires letter to residents over failed water test

Mayor says city not given timely state notification

BURTON — If you are a city water customer, you probably recently received a letter about a failed water test.

That test, which happened in February of 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, showed a minimal amount of a chemical used to prevent pipe corrosion found in a water sample taken at Burton Fire Station No. 2.

Mayor Duane Haskins said while he supports such letters as transparency in government, especially in the aftermath of the Flint Water Crisis, he thinks the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) acting a year and a half later by requiring a letter to residents only creates dissent.

“If there are any discrepancies in the lab results, we’re contacted by EGLE,” said Haskins at the Oct. 4 city council meeting. “The problem with this is us and three other communities were not notified by EGLE that level for the corrosion was down a touch.”

Mount Morris Township, Swartz Creek and Grand Blanc Township also had letters sent, he said.

Haskins said typically such a lab result is corrected within 7 days after the first test and the municipality has another test taken.

He said once the city takes water samples it sends them off to a lab approved by EGLE. Then the city gets the results back and sends them to EGLE. In this case, the city was never informed of the failed first test.

“We weren’t afforded that opportunity because we weren’t aware of it,” said Haskins. “EGLE was the one who wrote that letter and mandated us to send it out. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing because it’s transparency for everyone with everything that happened with the water in Flint and the lead poisoning.”

After a year and a half, Haskins said in his opinion it creates dissension among people who were left trying to figure out what happened and when.

Just to reassure everybody, he said all of Burton’s tests have been fine since then and he added he thinks the year and a half delay in notification may have been due to the COVID-19 shutdown happening immediately after the test.

“They required the letter,” he said. “The only bad thing was the timing.”

The letter states the city purchases water from the Karegnondi Water Authority and the Genesee County Water System and that the county treats the water to maintain corrosion control and prevent lead and copper in the pipes from dissolving into the water.

It goes on to say the city has no role in the treatment process and merely distributes the water from the county and to ensure optimal corrosion control, the city routinely samples the water in the distribution system for water quality parameters such as pH and orthophosphate which must be maintained within certain parameters.

The letter advises customers not to boil water or take other corrective actions, but adds if customers have specific health concerns, consult a doctor…meaning the situation does not require immediate action.

“If it had, you would have been notified immediately. This is a treatment violation, but it does not mean there is lead or copper in your drinking water,” the letter states. “The most recent monitoring indicates that lead and copper levels were below the action levels at least 90 percent of residential drinking water taps sampled.”

The letter concludes by saying EGLE set ranges for city water quality parameters and samples taken on Sept. 22, 2020 were below the required minimum value for orthophosphate. The city did not receive the certified lab result until Oct. 9, 2020, clearly outside the nine-day range set by EGLE. The city has since implemented safeguards to prevent this oversight from happening again.

“We collected our next required set of samples on December 15, 2020. These results were above the minimum value for orthophosphate,” the letter said. “We, along with ELGE water quality analysts, are working on following up with all water quality parameter results timely to prevent this from happening again.”

Charles Abbey, director of the Burton Department of Public Works, said it was more of a procedural problem, not being able to get the second test done within the mandated nine days because the city wasn’t notified when the first test failed.

“Now we’ve got new protocols that we take a second sample within nine days, just in case you have to have it,” said Abbey.