Professor heads team mapping lead lines in Flint

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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Many people have been calling to get rid of Flint's lead pipes as a way of fixing the water emergency. That includes Mayor Karen Weaver, who announced Tuesday she wants them removed from houses where pregnant women and children under 6 live.

Before anyone can decide to take out pipes, someone has to figure out where exactly they are. That's what a professor and his team at the University of Michigan-Flint have been doing for the past 10 days. They were hired by the mayor to map out lead pipes.

The first thing residents in Flint need to understand is that main lines, big pipes that run under streets, are made out of cast iron. They could have some lead fixtures, but the real lead problem is with service lines in houses.

"The information is gonna be spotty, but what we do, what we should be able to get a handle on is where there are concentrations of lead to at least start,” said Marty Kaufman, professor with the University of Michigan-Flint.

Kaufman has been leading the team that’s mapping out where Flint's lead pipes are. They're working off maps from the 1980s, with data dating back to the 1950s. There are more than 50,000 residential plots in the city. Each one is marked with what the service lines are made of.

"You have C for copper, you have L and C for lead to copper, or copper to lead, you have galvanized, and then you have missing,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman and his team have put all that data from more than 200 of these maps onto a digital format. They now estimate there are about 4,500 plots that have lines with lead in them and more than 10,000 that aren't marked at all; so they could have lead, too.

What would Kaufman recommend doing first?

"It might be better to go into the homes we think have lead and verify it,” he said.

Most houses in Flint were built before lead pipes were banned. That's why Kaufman says action needs to be taken soon.

"I mean, right now, the frost line is only about 5 inches because we've had a warm winter. We can dig now. When you've lost confidence in a public water supply, you have to take measures to redeem that confidence to the public,” he said.

Kaufman's team will be done mapping the lead lines that they know of in the next couple days. The data will then be handed over to the city.

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