The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 30, 2015

Clean water act: Local 370 plumbers do their part in Flint

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

FLINT - Members of UA Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 370, together with some of their contractors, have been major, helpful players in the task of assuring clean, healthy water for the city's residents.

Members of the pipe trades union, working for three local plumbing contractors, have fanned out across the city in recent weeks to install faucet-mounted filters for residents who have needed the help. Most of the recipients are elderly, disabled or aren't handy enough to remove the faucet aerator and attach the filters to the kitchen sink faucet.

Distribution of some 15,000 Brita filters, made available by the state Department of Health and Human Services, is being coordinated through the Genesee County Community Action Resource Department. Matt Purcell, the group's finance director, said about 5,000 to 7,000 filters have already been distributed. Most residents pick the filters up and do self-installations, but some have had the devices installed by union plumbers, contractors and other helpful people.

"For most people it's a simple task to install these filters on their faucet, but for somebody like a homebound senior, they could use the help doing the installation," Purcell said. "I can't express how gratified we are to the union, to all the people involved, they have been phenomenal. We had to work through some logistical and liability issues, but everybody there has been extremely helpful."

Purcell said the filter distribution process began in the beginning of October, after the State of Michigan confirmed private test results that found elevated amounts of lead levels in blood tests of children who live in Flint. Under the order of a state-imposed financial manager, the City of Flint had been drawing its water from the Flint River since 2014, as a money-saving move away from the costlier water provided by the City of Detroit's water system. For months after drawing water from the Flint River, residents complained of smelly and discolored water, which the state consistently claimed was safe to drink.

The test results showing elevated lead levels in children changed the conversation, and on Oct. 15, the tap to Detroit's water system was re-opened. But the lead-in-the-water problem remains: It will take time for pipes in Flint to become coated again with the Detroit-provided, lead-combating corrosion control that wasn't present when water came from the Flint River. Additionally, some households in the city could experience lead in their drinking water until all lead pipes and plumbing in their home or business are replaced.

Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 370 Business Manager Harold Harrington said he arranged to get his local union involved when he received a call from the local United Way, asking for assistance in installing the filters. Harrington then contacted some affiliated contractors, and received offers of help from William Floyd, Johnson & Wood and Goyette.

"You don't need a plumber to put these filters on faucets - but we're plumbers, we could do this in our sleep, so we figured it would be a natural fit for us," Harrington said.

Working off of a list of senior citizens provided by Genesee County Community Action Resource Department, the plumbers worked with contractors during business hours and volunteered on a Saturday to install over 100 filters.

"We did this, together with our contractors to help homebound seniors have access to safe drinking water; we're part of this community, and we're thankful that we could help," Harrington said. "A number of our guys told of how appreciative the seniors were when this was done for them. This is all about local people coming out to do the right thing."

PLUMBERS AND PIPE FITTERS Local 370 and some of their contractors shown here participated in a big effort to get filters placed on the faucets of Flint residents. From left to right are Bruce Roth (Local 370 business agent) Mark Griffin (Johnson and Wood) Jeff Wilcox (Wm. Floyd) Harold Harrington (370 Business Manager) and Roger Booth (Goyette).