Obama Sips Water in Flint, Tells Residents It Is Safe

FLINT, MICH. (Reuters) -
President Barack Obama drinks a glass of filtered water in Flint, Michigan. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
President Barack Obama drinks a glass of filtered water in Flint, Michigan. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President Barack Obama sipped filtered water in Flint, Michigan, on Wednesday and assured parents that children over 6 years old could do the same during a visit to a city still reeling from a scandal over lead-poisoned drinking water.

Obama made the trip to the mostly African-American community to reassure residents that the water was safe even as he predicted it would take more than two years to replace the city’s aging pipes, which leached lead into the drinking water.

“The water around this table was Flint water that was filtered,” Obama said during a meeting with regulators as he drank some himself.

“It just confirms what we know scientifically, which is if you’re using a filter … then Flint water at this point is drinkable.”

While under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014, the financially strapped city switched its water source from Detroit’s system to the Flint River to save money. The more caustic water caused lead, a toxin that harms brain development, to leach from the city’s pipes.

After blood tests of children showed high lead levels, the city switched back to Detroit’s system last October but residents still must filter their water. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of high lead levels.

Obama heard from federal officials on the response in Flint, where questions linger over whether his administration’s environmental regulators could have acted more urgently to address the crisis in a city where more than 40 percent of its 100,000 residents live in poverty.

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell accompanied Obama on the trip.