An independent investigation by The Guardian found 33 cities in 17 US states (including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee) are systematically cheating on the tests to monitor lead levels in the municipal water. 21 of those cities used the same cheating techniques that led to criminal charges in the Flint water scandal.
Law firm Hagens Berman has launched a class action suit against the city of Philadelphia over the deception.
The Guardian investigation reveals a deep, long-running culture of scientific corruption in the water-testing regimes of American cities, including using methods known to underestimate lead levels; Michigan and New Hampshire state governments advising cities to discard high-lead test results and re-test in an attempt to get a more favorable result; refusing to sample lead levels in high-risk houses because it posed "a security risk"; and more.
Philadelphia, a city accused of having the worst water testing in the US, asks testers to pre-flush their pipes, remove aerators and slowly pour water into a sample bottle. The EPA has warned against all these testing methods, which could "mask the added contribution of lead at the tap".
Documents show some authorities have also removed high-risk homes from testing or sought to obscure their dangerous lead levels. In Michigan, a department of environmental quality (MDEQ) official told the director of a town water department in a Detroit suburb called Howell to "bump this one out", referring to a sample with high lead levels, by taking additional samples.
"I would suggest at least five more samples," Adam Rosenthal, an official at the MDEQ drinking water office wrote in an email in 2008.
New Hampshire offered similar advice to water system officials in that state, advising water departments to test early so any high results could be re-tested.
At least 33 US cities used water testing 'cheats' over lead concerns [Oliver Milman and Jessica Glenza/The Guardian]