Flint to Revert Back to Data-Driven Predictive Model for Lead Pipe Replacements

As part of a legal settlement, the City of Flint, Michigan, will use a statistical model to guide its selection of homes for service line excavations in 2019

Flint to Revert Back to Data-Driven Predictive Model for Lead Pipe Replacements

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The City of Flint has agreed to use a data-driven approach to finding the remaining lead pipes delivering drinking water to residents’ homes as part of a landmark legal settlement directing the city’s response to the water crisis.

The agreement imposes detailed requirements to improve the efficiency of the city’s pipe replacement program to ensure that all remaining lead pipes are identified and removed.   

The parties to the settlement in Concerned Pastors for Social Action v. Khouri agreed that the city will use a statistical model developed by Dr. Eric Schwartz of the University of Michigan and Dr. Jacob Abernethy at the Georgia Institute of Technology to guide its selection of homes for service line excavations in 2019. The city had previously successfully used the model to guide its pipe-replacement efforts in 2017 before a new contractor abandoned the methodology.

“Our primary goal continues to be getting the remaining lead pipes out of Flint as quickly as possible. This is a critical step towards accomplishing that,” says Pastor Allen C. Overton of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

“This agreement will refocus and improve the city’s pipe replacement program. The commitment to use a statistical model with a proven track record of success will help protect Flint residents from further lead exposure,” says Sarah Tallman, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

Under the agreement, the city will prioritize service line excavations based on a list of as many as 5,200 addresses with the highest likelihood of having a lead or galvanized steel service line, as determined by Drs. Schwartz and Abernethy’s predictive model. The city must conduct excavations and service line replacements at homes on the priority list before conducting any other excavations, subject to limited exceptions. The agreement also requires monthly reporting from the City on its progress and use of funding for the project.

“The safety of Flint residents continues to be our foremost concern. This agreement will focus the city on one goal: ensuring that no lead service lines are left in the ground. We are ready to finish what we started when we brought this case more than three years ago,” says Melissa Mays, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“We are optimistic that the new terms will allow all Flint residents to realize the full potential of the city’s promise to find and replace all lead and galvanized steel pipes in Flint, on time and within budget,” says Bonsitu Kitaba, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, a plaintiff in the case.


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