JM Eagle, the world's largest producer of plastic pipe, is offering to replace for free all of the lead lines connecting water mains to houses and businesses in Flint, Mich., where contaminated drinking water has created a public health crisis.
Lead leached into the system after the city switched its source of water to the Flint River, and it ended up being corrosive to the lead pipes.
No official deal has been struck with JM Eagle, according to ABC News 12 WJRT, which reported JM Eagle CEO Walter Wang's offer to the Flint City Council on Feb. 22.
“I've been reading about this water crisis, this contamination issue, which is hurting human beings,” Wang told the television station. “It's hurting children and making them sick. There's a lot of articles written but I don't see anybody offering a long-term sustainable solution.”
Wang said JM Eagle pipe can last more than 100 years and it comes with a 50-year guarantee.
JM Eagle is the No. 1 pipe, profile and tubing extruder in North America with estimated sales of $2.5 billion, according to Plastics News' latest ranking. The Los Angeles-based company has 22 manufacturing plants in North America producing PVC and high density polyethylene pipe for potable water, sewage, irrigation and other uses.
If the city of Flint accepts JM Eagle's offer, HDPE pipe most likely would be used to replace the lead lines.
Wang has supported efforts to bring clean water to communities before. In 2011, JM Eagle donated nearly 400 miles of pipe to build the infrastructure needed to get water to some of the poorest villages in arid Africa. He also provided funds to help engineer and design it.
On its Twitter account, JM Eagle recently has been posting support for Flint residents — “everyone has the right to clean water” — as well as warnings to other cities — “America is Flint.” The company promoted its products, too, with a tweet that says “Our PVC and PE (polyethylene) pipe has been delivering clean water for decades.”
High levels of lead in tap water can cause permanent health effects, such as lower IQ, delayed development and behavioral problems, if the lead enters the bloodstream. The number of infants and children with elevated levels of lead reportedly doubled after Flint changed water sources in April 2014 in what was supposed to be cost-cutting move.
Flint reconnected to the Detroit water supply, which is from Lake Huron, in October 2015, but the damage has been done. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has said her administration will move forward with an important part of the fix, which is a plan to remove all lead pipe from the city of 99,760.
The number and location of water service lines containing lead is still coming into focus. A professor from the University of Michigan who has pored over records of 56,000 homes and businesses estimates about 8,000 service lines contain lead.
The mayor has called upon state and federal lawmakers to approve funding to begin replacing lead pipes while long-term repairs are evaluated.
“I hear some questions, always from people outside of our city, about why we need to remove these lines,” Weaver said in a Feb. 18 news release. “My answer is simple; the people of Flint have suffered long enough.
“This is a public health emergency and this is an economic crisis,” she said. “People won't buy homes or even feel comfortable in our restaurants until every lead service line is removed, and this is the most important step to returning confidence to government.”
The decision to switch water sources to the Flint River was made when the city was under a financial emergency manager and it was touted as a sensible and safe change. However, a month later, in May 2014, people were complaining about rashes from the new water.
JM Eagle and other plastic pipe manufacturers describe their products as safe and reliable long-term solutions to rebuilding the nation's aging water systems. More than $1 trillion of upgrades are needed over the next 25 years to repair and expand the infrastructure to meet projected needs, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
JM Eagle's 50-year warranty guarantees that its pipe meets standards of the AWWA and other certification agencies and that products leave the plants free of defect in workmanship and materials. The warranty was announced in April 2010, a couple months after a whistleblower lawsuit against the company was unsealed.
JM Eagle remains embroiled in the lawsuit filed by a former employee and more than 40 government entities over the quality of PVC pipe produced from 1996-2006.