KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
It's been nearly a thousand days since the water source for Flint, Mich., was switched from Lake Huron. Taking water from the Flint River started a chain of events that poisoned the city's tap water with lead. Yesterday, officials met again with city residents to tell them things are getting better. But as Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports, many are skeptical.
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KAREN WEAVER: We are going to go ahead and get started. We want to be on time.
STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: Flint Mayor Karen Weaver tried to wrangle several hundred residents into their seats last night to listen to experts review the latest data on the city's beleaguered drinking water. For nearly three hours, scientists, doctors and government officials walked the audience through some highly technical data. Mark Durno, the EPA's onsite coordinator, tried to explain the essential findings.
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MARK DURNO: Lead levels have substantially reduced. Orthophosphate is doing its job recoating the pipes. Chlorine levels have improved and stabilized throughout the system for effective disinfection.
CARMODY: All in all, better but still really bad. The federal action level for lead in water is 15 parts per billion. Flint's lead level was at 20 parts per billion last spring. It's now down to 12 parts. The only safe level is zero. As speakers focused on water improvements, the hall filled with the subtle sound of plastic water bottles being crushed and crinkled. It was the way some expressed their distrust. Nayyirah Shariff says for Flint residents, the water bottles are a symbol of their oppression.
NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: I mean I was offended by even defining this as a town hall. Like, this is not a town hall format where the public is unable to speak. And the design of the entire process is about power and control. And our water - it still isn't safe to drink.
CARMODY: To be clear, no one's saying Flint's water crisis is over. Officials insist city residents should continue to use special lead filters. A big part of the problem is that thousands of damaged pipes need to be replaced, a task that could take at least another three years to complete, and that's only if the city gets tens of millions of dollars in additional aid.
Rigel Dawson is the pastor of Flint's North Central Church of Christ. He says after years of relying on bottled water, there's a growing apathy among members of his congregation who are starting to cook and bathe again in unfiltered Flint tap water.
RIGEL DAWSON: Even drink it, you know, because they just feel like it's not worth it, you know? I can't live like that, and you've got to die of something, you know? People have even said that.
CARMODY: And Dawson says they're losing hope.
DAWSON: I don't really know how to promote hope (laughter), you know, in a hopeless situation other than doing what I obviously do as a pastor, which is preach God's word and keep people motivated and encouraged with their faith in God's ability to turn some things around.
CARMODY: Hope - or the lack of it aside - it will likely be at least another thousand days before Flint's drinking water will be safe enough to drink unfiltered from the tap. For NPR News, I'm Steve Carmody in Flint.
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