At least 33 cities across the United States have used water testing cheats that have underestimated toxic levels of lead, a Guardian investigation published Thursday found.
Conducted in wake of the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, thousands of documents requested by the Guardian reveal shockingly negligent practices when it comes to water testing across American cities.
Officials in Philadelphia and Chicago asked employees to test water safety in their own homes. The states of Michigan and New Hampshire told water departments to give themselves more time to test so that if lead levels were too high, they could re-test and remove the previous results.
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Mark Edwards, the Virginia Tech scientist who first uncovered the crisis in Flint, said water testing in large American cities is an "outrage."
“They make lead in water low when collecting samples for (Environmental Protection Agency) compliance, even as it poisons kids who drink the water,” Edwards told the Guardian. “Clearly, the cheating and lax enforcement are needlessly harming children all over the United States.
Testing methods that go against EPA guidelines now may be considered criminal acts — as is clear in the case of Flint — include ‘pre-flushing,’ or running faucets before the test period; removing faucet filters called ‘aerators’; and slowly filling sample bottles.
The officials arrested in the case of Flint advised testers to pre-flush. Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Buffalo also most recently tested water for lead this way.
Removing aerators can further prevent the collection of lead particles. The EPA has advised testers against doing this since 2006, when a removed aerator subsequently resulted in a lead poisoning case in Durham, North Carolina.
As the Guardian investigated, any amount of lead is harmful to humans, and even small amounts can lead to developmental and behavioral problems in children.
Since the crisis in Flint, the city and the state has phased out the distorted methods of water testing, but other cities have yet to do so.
While the Guardian found four cities that follows EPA guidelines, the problem of cheating on water testing may likely be widespread beyond the Guardian’s investigation.