The city of Flint has been grappling with a water crisis that has made it the focus of international attention ever since toxic levels of lead were found in the city's drinking water. The cost of replacing the hundreds of miles of pipe has been estimated to be as much as $1 billion. Government ineptitude at all levels has been blamed, even though pressure groups such as labor unions, Black Lives Matter, and Democratic Party activists have called for the resignation of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who had designated -- as did his Democratic predecessor Jennifer Granholm -- a mandated city manager to look after the struggling city's finances.
New evidence of municipal ineptitude has apparently come to light. According to the CEO of JM Eagle
, the California pipe company had offered to replace all of the pipes free of charge. According to the company's website, it is the largest plastic pipe manufacturer in North America. JM Eagle CEO Walter Wang promised the Flint City Council to provide enough free plastic pipe to replace all residential and commercial pipes in the city. According JM Eagle, the city did not reply to the offer that was extended in February after Mayor Karen Weaver (D) took office.
Burton, a city which borders Flint in Michigan's southeastern quarter, is replacing its three-decades old infrastructure with plastic pipes, thus saving taxpayers nearly half a million dollars.
Despite the offer of free plastic pipe, Flint is still in the midst of a bidding process for replacing its water infrastructure that supplies approximately 99,000 people. The city water system was designed for at least double that number of people but no longer has the financial resources for proper maintenance because of outmigration. As of the 1990s, the shuttering of General Motors factories meant that thousands of people left the city behind. It has since seen decades of decay, government mismanagement, and some of the highest murder rates in the United States.
Cities elsewhere in the country, as does neighboring Burton, are choosing to switch to plastic pipe. However, Flint is among those cities that does not allow for the specification of plastic pipe, according to Tony Radoszewski, president of the Plastics Pipe Institute, a trade association based in Dallas.
“Our members have been trying to sell to Flint for years and they can’t,” Radoszewski said in an interview with Plastics News. “It’s not only the service lines but the water mains as well. So they’re using ductile iron in the water mains and copper in the service lines. And copper is not an inexpensive choice.”
Toxic lead entered the city water system and potentially poisoned its residents, especially babies and young children, because anti-corrosion materials were not added to the water distributed to the city. Using plastic pipe, however, would obviate the need for the anti-corrosion material. According to Radoszewski, water in plastic pipe systems do not have to be treated with corrosion-controlling chemicals such as ortho-phosphate.
Traditional pipe materials, such as lead and copper, require adherence to complex federal monitoring and treatment parameters to prevent the leaching of lead: which was the process that contaminated Flint's drinking water and caused the crisis. It is the simplicity of plastic pipe, said Radoszewski in an interview with Plastics News, that makes it persuasive. "“It’s one thing to treat the water with chlorine to kill bacteria. Everybody gets that.” Radoszewsi added, “but then you have to add even more things so the pipe isn’t affected. I don’t get that. I think that’s a strong case for the simplicity of plastic pipe."