Kettering University president aims to clarify, detail scope of Flint water crisis

University president points to disparity among pipes

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DETROIT – In a letter addressed to parents, students and alumni, Kettering University President Robert K. McMahan, Ph.D., aims to detail and clarify the scope of lead contamination in the Flint city water system.

The Kettering campus is located within the city limits with a student population near 2,000. The school president's letter is an effort to reassure its community members that they are not at risk of poisoning from the tap water. He argues that some areas of the city have been contaminated worse than others.

"Kettering campus water is safe, and our faculty, staff, students, and campus residents are not being exposed to contaminated water on campus," the letter reads. "We are, and have been even before the current crisis emerged, committed to ongoing testing of our water to ensure the safety of the campus water supply. Moreover, the entire water supply of Flint has not been contaminated with lead; although some sections of the city have experienced problems, some severe, other sections have not."

According to his research, only 2 percent of all people tested in Flint have shown elevated levels of lead in their blood.

President McMahan points out that the water from the Flint River alone was not contaminated with lead. He said it depends on the pipes at each individual structure.

"The contamination, where it occurred, was due primarily to interactions between treated river water and lead supply lines in the distribution system, particularly in lead lines connecting individual houses to local water mains. This is not a global problem with the water, but a problem with how that water -- after treatment -- interacted with some pipes and other elements of the city's distribution system. This interaction was often (considerably) different -- even house-by-house -- on a single block," McMahan writes.

The letter goes on to describe the nature of the Flint water lead problem, according to McMahan. He cites several documents including the Environmental Protection Agency's Lead and Copper Rule (view here).

He also addresses the concern of a recent spike in Legionnaires' disease cases in Genesee County which possibly is linked to the water crisis.

"We have no evidence of any member of the university community having contracted Legionnaires' disease," he writes.

McMahan wraps up with a commitment from the university to help fix the water problem in Flint. 

McMahan is the 7th president of Kettering University, where he also works as a professor of physics. He earned a physics degree from Duke University and a Ph.D. in physics from Dartmouth College. Here is his biography from Kettering University.

Read the entire letter here.

Meanwhile, Flint residents have been advised not to drink the water from the tap. Some have said they don't feel safe bathing and/or showering with it despite Genesee County and Michigan health officials' assurance there is no danger to doing so.

"We don't have any change in recommendations to bathing. It is still safe to bathe ... in the city of Flint," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eden Wells, of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, during a news conference with Gov. Rick Snyder on Jan. 13.

Efforts are ongoing to get them bottled water and filters.

Here is more information on how you can help.


Flint, MI Profile | FindTheHome

About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.