Report finds Rockford skirted EPA guidelines for lead testing: The Guardian

Staff Report 

Rockford is among 21 cities highlighted in a report by The Guardian Thursday that defied EPA guidelines for testing lead content in the water supply.

According to the report:

At least 33 cities across 17 US states have used water testing “cheats” that potentially conceal dangerous levels of lead, a Guardian investigation launched in the wake of the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has found.

Of these cities, 21 used the same water testing methods that prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint over their role in one of the worst public health disasters in US history.

From The Guardian’s findings, Rockford was labeled as one of 21 cities where “testers were instructed to ‘pre-flush’ water pipes before testing for lead content, against EPA guidance.”

Per the report:

The tactic of pre-flushing, which helps clear lead from home plumbing prior to a test, is rampant across many large cities. In their most recent test cycles, Philadelphia; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Buffalo, New York, tested water for lead in this way.

The EPA has warned since 2008 that pre-flushing is problematic and goes against the “intent” of regulations designed to detect lead. Nevertheless, the federal agency failed to properly police state agencies who included the method in sample instructions for years, including at the Maine and Rhode Island departments of health.

In addition, The Guardian found that Rockford was one of seven U.S. cities where testers were instructed to remove aerators from water spouts, a method the EPA recommended against starting in 2006 and one that watchdogs say can reduce lead content in the water.

The U.K. newspaper sought information from 81 cities east of the Mississippi River in the wake of the scandal that has rocked Flint, Michigan. Forty-three responded with documents, of which 33, including Rockford, showed that they had “used distortions in their water testing in the past decade.”

However, critics say that the EPA’s own guidelines have encouraged the use of such distortions in lead testing.

“What on earth can you do when the environmental policemen at EPA have condoned open cheating on the water lead rule for more than a decade now?” said Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech faculty member who first uncovered the crisis in Flint.

“Most of the water departments involved said they used the testing methods because state governments told them to, federal guidance was not clear, or they had not received any word that practices may underestimate lead content,” an additional report from the newspaper said.

The EPA is reportedly set to update their lead and copper testing rules by next year.

We have reached out to city hall for comment and will update as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: The City of Rockford has issued a statement regarding Thursday’s report in The Guardian. Read it here.
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