Journal AWWA Examines Lessons of Flint

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The crisis in Flint, Mich., has far-reaching implications for water utilities across the United States, according to two articles published in the July 2016 Journal - American Water Works Association.


The crisis in Flint, Mich., has far-reaching implications for water utilities across the United States, according to two articles published in the July 2016 Journal - American Water Works Association. Although the current health crisis is focused largely on Flint, lead service lines exist in communities across North America.

In the article, “The Flint Crisis,” former Journal AWWA editor-in-chief Michael J. McGuire, PhD, PE, hosts a roundtable discussion on the crisis with four notable figures from Michigan State University in East Lansing: Janice A. Beecher, director, Institute of Public Utilities; Mona Hanna-Attisha, director, Pediatric Public Health Initiative, Hurley Medical Center; Susan J. Masten, professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Joan B. Rose, professor, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“All four… have been directly involved in the Flint crisis in different ways,” McGuire notes in his Inside Insight column, also in the July 2016 issue. “Their points of view are unique and need to be heeded.”

The roundtable explores the timeline of events in Flint and highlights how a comprehensive transition plan could have identified challenges before the source water switch. The participants also delved into public awareness of risk, the financial and political decisions that contributed to the crisis, and the children’s health investigation that took place in 2013 and 2015.

“The Flint crisis has accomplished one thing,” Dr. Hanna-Attisha said. “Our story has raised the national consciousness of lead as a children’s health problem that we still have to deal with. We have to prioritize resources in public health protection especially for our most vulnerable population. … You can’t put a price on public health.”

In speaking to what lessons can be passed on to young water professionals, Dr. Beecher said, “At a very personal level for everyone, regardless of roles and responsibilities, the fundamental lesson is ‘do your job.’ Do what you were trained and hired to do because the public and the public interest depend on it, and the consequences of neglecting your duty can be dire. Be prepared for a moment when doing your job may require you to put that job on the line. Your professional integrity is everything in the long run.”

The events in Flint matter to all water utility professionals, according to Eric P. Rothstein, a member of the Michigan Governor’s Flint Water Advisory Task Force. In his article, “Why Flint Matters,” he discusses what happened in Flint and what more can be done to avoid similar issues in the future. Rothstein advocates for water professionals to

  • Seek to understand the technical complexities of source water conversions, distribution system management, and service line replacements.
  • Learn to navigate the legal and financial challenges of effecting full service line replacements across public and private lines of ownership.
  • Work to educate potable water customers about the presence and potential dangers of lead in drinking water.
  • Partner with public health, education, and economic development communities to develop technically sound programs to test and monitor for lead.
  • Seek to secure funding for and prioritize lead mitigation now.

“We have the opportunity to lead not only because of our technical expertise, but also by being true to our common purpose... Our own brands are built on delivering safe drinking water; it is our reason for being,” Rothstein wrote.

Access the full articles in Journal AWWA online at To speak with editor-in-chief, Ken Mercer, PhD, or to submit or suggest article topics, send an e-mail to journaleditor(at)awwa(dot)org.

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Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most important resource. With approximately 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life.

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Deirdre Mueller
American Water Works Association
since: 11/2009
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