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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Federal support for state and local response operations

Flint, Michigan, Water Contamination Crisis

February 3, 2016

Federal agencies are working diligently to support state and city officials in responding to the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. Since this problem is primarily a public health crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been designated the lead federal agency responsible for coordinating the federal response and recovery efforts.

This means that HHS is working across the federal partners from across the U.S. government to mobilize the capabilities and resources of existing programs. Federal agency partners include: the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, Small Business Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, and the Department of Agriculture.

These agencies are supporting the state and city in:

  • identifying the size and scope of the problem and
  • making and executing a plan to mitigate the short- and long-term health effects of lead exposure.

All efforts to date are allowable under the Department’s statutory and regulatory authority.

To help the state in ensuring a safe water supply and provide immediate access to safe water:

New:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working with state and local officials in encouraging Flint residents to take steps to remove debris that may have accumulated in faucet aerators, hot water heaters, and whole-house water filtration systems since this debris can affect water quality including lead levels.

Ongoing or Completed:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working with state and local officials to conduct water testing and to reduce lead levels in tap water and provide safe drinking water to the residents of Flint.
  • EPA teams are collecting drinking water samples from Flint homeowners to better understand how lead is behaving in the plumbing in their homes and to ensure proper corrosion control is being restored in the drinking water system in order to lower lead levels. The samples are sent to an EPA laboratory for analysis and the quality-assured results are shared with individual homeowners and posted to a publicly accessible website.
  • NSF-International certified lead-removal filters are being distributed in Flint by the State of Michigan to remove lead from household water and make it safe for people to drink. These filters are certified by NSF for use with water containing lead levels up to 150 parts per billion. Residents are encouraged to have their home water tested. EPA began sampling drinking water in households with known lead levels of 100 parts per billion or higher, in order to verify the effectiveness of these filters at removing lead at high concentrations.
  • EPA is also working with drinking water system operators at the City of Flint treatment plant. EPA is collecting chlorine samples at locations throughout the city system, with a focus on locations that would be the most likely to have lower chlorine levels. EPA will continue to collect samples to ensure that chlorine concentrations in the system are sufficient. EPA is posting preliminary water quality data about chlorine levels in Flint’s drinking water, as well as an interactive map of sampling results in Flint. The map includes data from initial chlorine testing, and as additional and final data becomes available, EPA will post the sampling locations and data to the map. The map is available at www.epa.gov/flint. In locations where chlorine is not detected, EPA conducts follow-up testing for microbial contamination. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has information about chlorine and health available for the public.
  • EPA is inspecting homeowner drinking water systems to determine the presence or absence of lead service lines in the water distribution system as it prepares for additional residential sampling.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing bottled water, water filters, filter cartridges, water test kits, and other necessary items to the state of Michigan under the emergency declaration. At the request of the State, FEMA so far has provided 1,366,614 liters of water, 102,520 water filter replacement cartridges, 5,000 23-cup filtration pitchers, 5,000 8-cup filtration pitchers, and 30,000 water filters (faucet filters) to the state for distribution to Flint residents. 
  • EPA is conducting an audit of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) drinking water program to examine MDEQ's implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and related rules on lead and copper, total coliform, nitrates and ground water.
  • During the week of January 17, EPA issued a Safe Drinking Water Act Emergency Order to ensure the state and city immediately take actions necessary to protect public health. The Safe Drinking Water Act Emergency Order requires the State of Michigan and City of Flint to take a series of immediate steps to address the drinking water contamination in Flint.
  • In mid-October, the EPA established a Flint Safe Drinking Water Task Force comprised of EPA scientists who are internationally recognized experts in the field of lead in drinking water. The EPA Task Force is providing technical assistance to MDEQ and the City of Flint to implement corrosion control treatment and to develop school and residential sampling protocols.   

To help the state address near-term physical and mental health needs of children, pregnant women and families potentially impacted by lead-contaminated water:

New:

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deployed a team of fourteen U.S. Public Health Service Officers to support the state’s and county’s public and mental health efforts in the Flint response. Officers will help staff the Genesee County Health Department’s public information line, increasing the short-term capacity of the information line, and work with the county’s staff to develop additional materials needed to answer callers’ questions. Commissioned Corps officers also will help state authorities develop information materials that will be distributed to Flint residents.
  • FDA updated a safety message reminding consumers not to use unapproved chelating products. Products may be available over the counter or from online retailers. These products claim to remove lead from the body but none have been approved by FDA for this use.

Ongoing or Completed:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is allowing participants to use WIC vouchers for ready-to-feed infant formula, which does not need to be mixed with water. Participants also can swap powdered formula for ready-to-feed formula. WIC participants are being referred to the local health department for lead screenings and provided nutrition education on mitigating lead absorption through dietary changes.
  • On January 25, USDA approved the Michigan Department of Education’s $62,700 request in additional funds for the USDA Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program. These funds can be used to help affected schools purchase foods high in Vitamin C. Foods high in Vitamin C are among the foods recommended by the (CDC) that may help keep lead out of the body, along with foods high in calcium and iron.
  • The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response is using existing resources to help state health officials identify vulnerable populations in Flint who may need further targeted outreach and assistance.
  • The HHS-funded agency on aging in Michigan is organizing local meetings and distributing water bottles and water filters to home-delivered meal recipients. The agency is coordinating with Genesee County to assist seniors who need help installing water filters.
  • The HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) are working with their grantees in the area to disseminate public health education through Head Start, Community Health Centers and other programs to help families understand the risks of lead in the water, encouraging residents to have their children screened, and assisting families in obtaining screening for their children. Medicaid regularly requires that all Medicaid-eligible children up to age 6 be tested for lead poisoning; treatment for these children is covered under Medicaid. As a diagnostic benefit, home investigations for Medicaid-eligible children also are covered under Medicaid. The state can expedite enrollment into Medicaid for eligible children in need of immediate medical attention.
  • The Disaster Distress Helpline, sponsored by the HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is available to provide crisis counseling and support to people – including children and families in Flint – who are experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.  Residents can call (800) 985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.  

To assist the state, city and residents in understanding the potential impacts lead can have on health:

New:

  • The National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, developed the Lead in the Flint, Michigan Water Supply Resource Guide to provide professionals, scientists and members of the public with easy access to information on the health effects of lead and lead exposure in vulnerable populations. The guide incorporates links to a variety of local, state, and federal resources, including Flint specific information. The library will continue to update and maintain this resource guide, adding new topics as needed and new links as they become available. 

Ongoing or Completed:

  • The CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is providing technical assistance to the state on lead exposure, water sampling protocols, and home inspections. CDC and ASTDR are working with the state to determine the number of children exposed to lead in Flint to ensure that children who should be screened are getting screened. 
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) local office assessed potential impacts on FDA-regulated industries in the Flint area, including human food and animal feed production. No impacts were found, and FDA continues to assess and monitor the situation.
  • The National Institutes of Health has a long history of supporting research on lead exposure and health, including children’s health. The NIH has an expedited process for reviewing research proposals and funding grants to address environmental emergencies, such as the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint. The NIH is soliciting these research proposals now. Additionally, the new NIH Disaster Research Response initiative is working to improve research tools, protocols, and training necessary to conduct time-critical health research in response to disasters.

To support the state, city and residents in responding and recovering from the economic impact of this crisis:

Ongoing or Completed:

  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is working closely with the city on economic development and interagency coordination and successfully assisted the city with the purchase and installation of water filters. HUD had an existing lead hazard grant to Flint, targeted to lead paint, $325,000 of which can be used for addressing the water lead contamination. 
  • HUD also has provided a data tracking and reporting system for the State of Michigan to use in its lead investigations.
  • In 2014, Flint was identified as one of six target cities in the second round of the Strong Cities – Strong Communities White House initiative.  This program focuses on enhanced federal agency support in areas of blight reduction, public safety and economic development. Discussions are ongoing to identify opportunities for Departmental programs and initiatives to provide resources to help address the Flint water crisis and for collaboration through existing federal engagement with city, county and state agencies.
  • SBA stands ready to provide disaster assistance loans to assist business owners who have been affected by lead contamination.
  • President Obama on January 22 also announced $80 million available from the water infrastructure state revolving fund allocated to the State of Michigan as part of the President's enacted 2016 budget. The Administration has moved to ensure that money is available in Michigan immediately.

 

  • This page last reviewed: February 04, 2016