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Flint whistleblower gives Indiana a "C" in water quality

Posted: 5:49 PM, Nov 18, 2016
Updated: 2016-11-18 22:50:51Z

INDIANAPOLIS -- Melissa Mays, the mother of three who helped shine an international spotlight on the Flint water crisis, said Friday Indiana has a lot of work to do when it comes to keeping its citizens safe and informed.

“I give Indiana a ‘C’, because you’re not Flint yet, but you’re going that direction,” said Mays.

Mays, a Batesville native, is back in Indiana for Saturday’s Greening the Statehouse event.

Mays watched Call 6 Investigates special report on Indiana’s drinking water, which found it’s difficult to find current drinking water testing results and the reports are often confusing for homeowners .

Christy Julian of Elwood complained to the city and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) about concerns over her brown drinking water.

“My kids are drinking this," Julian said in May. “When we call, they tell us, ‘It’s safe, the kids are fine.’"

Mays said Julian and other homeowners are right to be concerned and ask questions.

“When a homeowner wants to know what’s coming through their tap, they have every right to know that, but that’s not how it works right now,” said Mays.

In May, Call 6 Investigates went to IDEM’s website looking for test results that prove Elwood’s water is safe and found the most recent lead and copper results were from 2014, and even those tests were unclear.

The state’s drinking water database did not indicate whether the test results show the water is safe or unsafe to consume.

Even IDEM’s drinking water Branch Chief Mary Hollingsworth had trouble navigating their website.

Call 6 Investigates found reports often written in industry lingo that is difficult for homeowners to comprehend.

Mays said the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and utilities need to do a better job at making drinking water reports easy to access and easy to understand.

“If you don’t understand what you’re reading, you’re going to shut down and you’re not going to ask more questions,” said Mays. “The only thing that saved us is we just kept digging.”

IDEM spokesperson Courtney Arango said Friday the agency has added information to their webpage about lead in drinking water, including information on certified drinking water labs that test for lead and other contaminants .

IDEM also started uploading water testing results as they come in, so people can view them more quickly than they have in the past.

The agency’s Drinking Water Watch website  has not changed since Call 6 Investigates’ story aired.

“However, we did meet internally with our information technology staff to brainstorm what an updated drinking water watch website would look like and how it would function,” said Arango.

The agency is joining a national initiative aimed at making water quality more transparent than ever, and Indiana is also applying for a grant to make its Drinking Water Watch website more user-friendly.

Regarding Elwood, at Call 6 Investigates request, IDEM tested Julian’s water at the tap and found high levels of manganese, which is considered a secondary contaminant and not hazardous to drink.

Arango said Elwood has not had complaints about their water since they flushed the lines again.

“They are also applying for a grant to possibly obtain funds to replace some of the smaller, older iron service lines,” said Arango. “If approved, the replacement would alleviate the iron build up on the lines which improves the water flow and reduces the chance for strange colors and small chunks of build-up coming loose.”

Arango pointed out Julian’s water samples were all in compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE LEAD PIPES:

Do a magnet test. If the magnet does not stick to the pipe coming into the house, try scraping it with a knife. Lead is soft and will scrape off the pipe and a shiny surface will appear.

If you do have lead pipes, experts say you should get them replaced or at least let the water run for several minutes on cold before drinking it.

MORE |  EPA: Basic information about your drinking water  |  Citizens Energy Group: Lead and copper in drinking water

CONCERNED ABOUT WATER SAFETY:

If you’re concerned about the safety of your water, you can call the utility directly, the county health department, IDEM or the  Indiana State Department of Health  .

Utilities are required to put out a water quality report every year, as well, and many agencies will test your water at the tap if you ask for it.

REPORTS |  Citizens Energy Group  |  American Wate

You can also call the Safe Drinking Water Act Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.