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City asserts water quality violation not an issue

By Lisa Brody

Routine water sample testing done for the city of Birmingham by Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority (SOCWA) revealed one non-compliant sample, from a sink which had not been in use for months at Whole Foods, and per state law, the city was required to mail a notice of the violation to all Birmingham residents.

Complicating the situation even further, a technician preparing the report to the state had miscalculated averages in the report.

City attorney Mary Kucharek explained that since the Flint Water Crisis in 2014, the state of Michigan has re-enacted many points of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act of 1976 through the state's Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) department. Michigan's act exceeds the standards of the federal requirements, Kucharek said.

The city partners with SOCWA in order to procure the routine water testing at 10 different sites around Birmingham, as well as a number of their other communities, which is done quarterly.

“Every test since the act has been enacted, we've (Birmingham) been perfect,” Kucharek said. She noted the water in Birmingham is safe to use and drink, and does not need to be boiled.

Kucharek explained the water quality testing tests for lead and phosphates. However, she noted, one of the things in city water is orthophosphate which is added to water to prevent pipe corrosion – and is what was missing from the Flint water system. “It's a phosphate that creates a film that prevents lead from leaching into the water. It's important to understand the importance of these good phosphates to keep lead out of our water.”

Yet, if water is not run in a source regularly, that phosphate film can create a false positive test.

In June 2023, a sample taken at a utility sink at Whole Foods at 2100 E. Maple Road in Birmingham, in its former bistro area which was being reconstructed as an Amazon return site, came back non-compliant. The sink had not been used in a while and the individual doing the sample failed to run the water from the sink, Kucharek noted.

“The city and Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority (SOCWA) believe the non-compliant sample produced a false low WQP (water quality parameters) due to it being inadvertently collected from a utility sink that was no longer in use and had been sitting stagnant awaiting demolition. Standing water should not be used for water sampling. A subsequent sample collected at the same site from an active sink in July of 2023 was found to meet all EGLE requirements,” the city stated in a release.

“The sample at issue from the Whole Foods food court sink should be disregarded because that source was not in active service and the results are not representative of the site,” said SOCWA General Manager Jeffrey McKeen.

Kucharek said she appealed the non-compliance citing to EGLE, and while they considered the situation, they still noted it as a violation.

“EGLE will not even think about something in a logical way because they are compelled to follow the strictest language of the act,” Kucharek said. “They did say we presented the best possible facts and evidence that this was not a violation of the act. Whole Foods' attorney sent documentation that the sink hadn't been used since May. This (redesign) plan was already in place.”

“We consider the health, safety and welfare of our residents and water consumers in the city of Birmingham to be of paramount importance,” said Birmingham City Manager Jana Ecker. “It is important for residents to know this is a potential treatment issue, and the sample in question and all water delivered to residents is safe to consume.”

Due to the non-compliance citing, the city was required to send a notice to all Birmingham residents. The city has also announced that it will now increase both the number of water sampling locations and frequency of testing in the future.


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