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January 23, 2016

Report: Philly, like many cities, is distorting its water tests

Guardian says U.S. cities are at risk of Flint-like crisis

A recent report from the Guardian claims the Philadelphia Water Department, along with several water boards in cities across the United States, is "systematically distorting" water tests, therefore downplaying how much lead is in their samples.

RELATED STORY: Bucks County company pledges "filters for Flint"

The report, published Friday, cites documents obtained by the newspaper from Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, who served on an Environmental Protection Agency task force that completed its work last year.

That task force claims to have found that several city departments, including Philadelphia's, have had their water testers use a controversial method that flushes out lead and copper from their samples by letting the tap run for a few minutes before getting the sample. Here's what the Guardian's report says about Philly:

The Philadelphia water department’s instructions to residents in November last year were to “remove the aerator from the faucet. Leave the aerator off until sampling is completed”. This practice was deemed “against the intent of the monitoring protocol” in 2008 by the EPA, which advised against in 2006.

In an email to Lambrinidou in November 2015, a senior official at Philadelphia Water said: “We are trying to stay up on the latest science as best we can. We get confused by it and wish that a national forum of experts could get together and agree. But it’s often left to us to try and make sense out of everything that is published and talked about.”

Philadelphia also asks testers to “run only the cold water for two minutes” before taking a water sample. This practice of “pre-flushing” the pipes before testing water is repeated in instructions given to Michigan residents, between 2007 and 2015, by cities including Detroit, which requires water to be run for five minutes before testing, Grand Rapids, Andover, Muskegon, Holland and Jackson.

The report comes not long after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been forced to address a contaminated water crisis in the city of Flint. The water in Flint had been poisoned with lead since 2014, but complaints about the water's smell and taste had been mostly ignored by the government until now.

The Guardian report says that the documents reveal other U.S. cities, like Philadelphia, are risking the spread of similar crises if these distorted tests continue. Read the full piece here.

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