The ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which stemmed from cost-cutting measures that led to the area’s public water supply becoming tainted with lead and other toxins, has spawned many rumors and conspiracy theories. Among the more widely circulated Flint-related rumors is a video purportedly showing that home testing using TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meters revealed dangerous levels of lead in bottled water that was handed out to Flint residents as part of an effort to ameliorate the crisis:
However, water expert Greg Cornell, the general manger of Culligan of Flint, averred that such rumors were unfounded, as TDS testing is not in itself sufficient for detecting the lead content of water, and other, more accurate tests found no traces of lead in bottled water distributed in Flint:
“It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find any lead in any bottled water,” said Greg Cornell. “Especially if the water is certified by the IBWA — the International Bottled Water Association.”
“What people are measuring [in Facebook videos] are the total dissolved solids in the water, which could be anything dissolved in the water, whether it be a salt, a metal, even a sugar,” Cornell said.
Cornell and the Water Quality Association said TDS meters cannot measure lead specifically.
The association writes, “They detect the conductivity directly related to the concentration of combined total dissolved solids such as minerals, salts and metals.”
“TDS meters measure in what’s called “parts per million”, and lead is typically measured in parts per billion, which is 1,000 times smaller,” Cornell said. “So you’d have to have 1,000 parts per billion of lead for it to show up as one part per million on your TDS meter.”
State Police commented on the lead in bottled water claim last month.
“We took the 21 different varieties of water we have in our warehouses. Each one of those brands were tested. They conducted tests on each and every one, and they found out that the results were no lead detected,” said Lt. David Kaiser, with Michigan State Police.
Cornell added that TDS meters are typically used to determine the efficiency of devices like reverse osmosis systems and water softeners, and that testing for lead is something best done in a certified laboratory: