The PHCP supply chain has taken an active role in helping with the recent water-quality crisis that left many residents of Flint, Mich., with water unfit for human consumption.

“There has been a lot of help here whether it’s contractors, the local plumbing unions, distributors or manufacturers,” saidGreg Brown, of Hodges Supply (Omni buying group), which has a store in Flint (opened in 1975). “They all are working together on this.”

Brown noted BrassCraft Mfg., headquartered in Novi, Mich., donated lead-free stop valves, as well as bottled water.  “We put the water on our trucks and delivered it to churches and places where they are having water stations,” he said. “A bunch of union plumbers took those stops and went out on their own time and installed them in homes that were affected.”

Vic Bond Sales (Embassy buying group), which has nine branches in Michigan, also provided water at its Flint location, which opened in 1972. “Water has been coming in from all over the country,” Vic Bond Sales’ Rob McAndrew said. “Water right now is pretty accessible to everybody no matter if they have transportation or not. A lot of water has been brought to the food bank and they have much better means to get it out to sources.”

The Flint water crisis is the result of high levels of lead found in some of the city’s water supply. McAndrew notes several zip codes in Flint have been affected by the elevated lead levels. The crisis, according to reports, can be traced to when Flint switched its water supply from Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority. While waiting for the completion of the KWA system, Flint switched to the Flint River as a backup water source. But the Flint River was found to have higher levels of chlorine, which is highly corrosive to lead pipes and resulted in lead being leached into the water supply.

“It’s an extremely bad situation,” McAndrew said. “A lot of residents have been affected. It goes as far as going in restaurants and they will tell you, ‘We have Detroit water,’ or ‘We have a water problem.’ There is obvious concern about food preparation.”

McAndrew said a main question now is what type of long-term solution will be implemented. “There currently are a lot of questions regarding what is going to fix it,” he said. “A lot of the issues are more municipality-related with the infrastructure. It’s a wait-and-see type thing right now. The funding is going to come, but I think they are sorting everything out and putting a game plan together on what long-term action to take.”

Brown is hearing a lot of concern from Flint residents. “I think everything is going to get taken care of,” he said. “But people don’t have a lot of money and they want to know who is going to pay for things before they get them changed out. Right now I think the government is getting all its ducks in a row.”


Helping those in need

Ferguson donated 210 kitchen faucets after being contacted by Flint’s United Association Local 370 Plumbers and Pipefitters to help citizens who weren’t able to use filters or purchase a new faucet. Ferguson associate Andrew Sunstrum, who previously had delivered donated water to Flint, made a separate delivery of faucets to the union.

“I’m glad Local 370 reached out to us and we were able to support their effort,” Ferguson Great Lakes District Manager Casey Bradley said. “A lot of great plumbers are going door-to-door installing filters and helping the community on their own time. It’s going to be a long journey to recover, but help is pouring in from all directions.”

BrassCraft’s shutoff valves were used to assist plumbers installing new water filters and faucets. Local 370 provided the volunteer labor of more than 300 plumbers needed to do the necessary work.

“The Flint residents are our family, friends and neighbors,” BrassCraft Director of Marketing Communications Delaina Lee said. “This crisis is close to us because we help people get access to clean water every day. Watching the news we see the despair and frustrations of the residents of Flint and we want to do our part to help things get back to normal.”

Suburban Chicago-based Plumbing Manufacturers International, which worked with UA Local 370 to provide assistance, also jumped into action, sending out a request for assistance to its members. And PMI’s membership did not disappoint. In addition to BrassCraft, American Standard Brands, Delta Faucet, Fluidmaster, Kohler, Moen, Pfister, Speakman and Viega all donated products. Fisher Mfg., and the International Code Council, which do not make the type of products needed for the Flint relief effort, made monetary donations. International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) also contributed to the effort.

“I’m very proud of our members,” PMI CEO and Executive Director Barbara Higgens said. “The UA reached out to us and they are the ones who volunteered to retrofit faucets. It’s an awful situation in Flint. Some faucets there were in such bad shape they were not able to accept filters. The first request we received was for 200 and then an additional 500 for a total of 700. We certainly wanted to be part of the mitigation of trouble there. This was a great humanitarian effort and a great response by great people in our industry.”


Prelude to a bigger problem

PMI’s Higgens says the Flint crisis speaks to what is a looming problem in the country. “The products initiative part will help them get through the day-to-day issues,” she said. “But it doesn’t address the fundamental issue here. It’s not a product problem. It’s an infrastructure and process issue. The good news is the Flint situation has really highlighted the importance of safe plumbing and the promotion of public safety through plumbing products. Plumbing is the Rodney Dangerfield of industries. People take clean water for granted and all of a sudden you have a Flint situation and it makes people think about it.”

Pentair’s Neal White, whose company also is actively involved with assisting residents in Flint, hopes the Flint crisis acts as a tipping point with water-quality issues in the country.

“Water problems occur daily in the U.S.,” he said. “We see this almost every day in our line of work whether it’s Flint, Jackson, Miss., or in New York. Infrastructure in the U.S. is a big buzzword. Bridges and roads and water systems are aging. Flint is a game-changer. It has the right amount of reflection point built up over the right amount of time. Flint is unique, but it’s not alone. Flint is a little different in that the consumers’ confidence they have in the municipality or water company in making their water safe has been completely shaken up and now you have the fallout. Water infrastructure is an issue that needs to be addressed in this country.”

This article was originally titled “Lending a helping hand” in the April 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.