State and health officials address Flint water crisis, introduce plan of action

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan will spend $1 million to buy water filters and immediately test water in public schools in Flint after testing showed elevated levels of lead in the city's children, the governor said Friday, a day after local health officials declared a public health emergency.

A plan of action was outlined at a news conference, and includes:

*Testing in Flint public schools immediately to ensure that drinking water is safe, with testing also available at no cost to any other school in Flint.

*Offering free water testing to Flint residents to assure their drinking water is safe.

*Providing free water filters to residents.

*Expanding health exposure testing of individual homes.

*Accelerating corrosion controls in the Flint drinking water system.

*Accelerating water system improvements to address replacing lead service lines.

*Expediting the completion of the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline.

*Expanding a Safe Drinking Water Technical Advisory Committee to ensure the best technology, practices and science are being followed by adding an expert from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development to the group.

*Naming Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as the Flint drinking water public health adviser.

*Boosting a comprehensive lead education program to make sure residents have detailed information about how to protect themselves and their homes.

*Residents can have their water tested by calling 810-787-6537 and pressing 1, or emailing flintwater@cityofflint.com. The DEQ is covering the cost of this testing.

Gov. Rick Snyder also announced expanded health exposure testing, continued free water testing in homes, and quicker steps to ensure that water from the Flint River is effectively treated. Although the water is treated, officials say it is too corrosive and releasing lead from old plumbing in thousands of homes.

The problems arose after the city broke away from Detroit's water system to save money, pending the completion of a new regional pipeline in 2016. The decision was made last year while a state emergency manager was shepherding Flint through a financial crisis, leading to months of complaints about the smell and taste.

"It appears from the data that there are some serious issues and concerns with what happens when that water reaches the home," Snyder told reporters in a conference call Friday.

The governor didn't rule out possibility reconnecting the city to Detroit's water system, saying it is an "active topic."

The Genesee County Health Department declared a public health emergency on Thursday. A coalition of residents and national groups also petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to order the state to reconnect Flint to Detroit water.

Residents are unhappy with the taste, smell and appearance of water from the Flint River and have reported rashes, hair loss and other health concerns that they attribute to it. A General Motors plant stopped using the water because it was causing excessive rust. The city's schools have urged students to avoid fountains and instead carry bottled water.

Despite the complaints, city officials had said state tests showed the water met federal safety guidelines.

But in September, Virginia Tech researchers released a report saying Flint's water was creating a health threat in old homes that have lead pipes or pipes fused with lead solder. And doctors last week reported high levels of lead in local children's blood samples, also blaming water pipes.

Flint officials said they know which homes have risky pipes but that the information is on about 45,000 index cards and difficult to retrieve.

The city is now telling residents to use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula, and recommending they use the certified filters. The General Motors Foundation, the local United Way and others have given at least $105,000 to buy filters for 5,000 residents.

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David Eggert reported from Lansing, Mich. Associated Press writer Corey Williams contributed to this report from Detroit.

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