Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is pleased to announce the July Issue of STEPS: Science, Technology, and Engineering Policy Studies. Please enjoy this featured view in brief:


The Flint, Michigan water crisis represented a failure of government at multiple levels. However, the damage could have been prevented if key components of a regulation evaluation process had been required at the inception of the rule making process. A coordinated implementation strategy along with enforcement to ensure regular retrospective review could have, in the case of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations and Safe Drinking Water Act, prevented the crisis that occurred in the Flint water system. A high level framework, applied to all regulation making, should be created and implemented to provide guidance to regulators on how to conduct retrospective evaluation.




The water crisis in Flint, Michigan was in large part a failure of the regulatory system. Specifically, the system failed to consistently and effectively monitor and improve regulations that control the quality of municipal water. The crisis began when state-appointed officials switched Flint’s drinking water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River on April 30, 2014. Following this change to sourcing the town’s drinking water from the Flint River, Flint’s water violated multiple National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR) levels established by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) throughout 2014 and 2015.1 Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters first notified EPA Region V of high lead levels in drinking water in February 2015, when Flint utility administrator, Mike Glasgow, measured lead at 104 ppb in her home. In response, the City of Flint tested the drinking water for iron and lead multiple times, and even after pre-flushing, found excessively high lead and iron levels. The EPA Region V made numerous inquiries about whether the required optimized corrosion control treatment (OCCT) program was being implemented. After first stating that they were implementing OCCT in Flint, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) admitted in April 2015 that they had not been doing so.2 The MDEQ decision to not immediately implement OCCT led to the corrosion that resulted in drinking water contamination.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan was a result of “government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice” 3 at the local, state, and federal levels. This should come as no surprise as the US regulatory management system has changed little since it was first overhauled in 1981, and as a result, the US is falling behind other developed countries, which have been updating their regulatory management systems and regulations in recent years.4 Our outdated regulatory system is still unable to protect its citizens despite three executive orders (EO 13563, EO 13579, and EO 13610) calling for regulatory review to improve regulations’ efficiency and efficacy. Systematic review of the SDWA and its implementation would have prevented the Flint crisis by exposing the failures of oversight at the local, state, and federal levels. By implementing a framework for retrospective evaluation, which assesses a regulation’s effectiveness in meeting its objectives after implementation, the Flint water crisis could have been prevented. The US lacks coordinated implementation and enforcement to ensure that agencies are completing effective retrospective review, making the process ad hoc and creating an environment where its citizens are placed in harm’s way by situations such as that in Flint, Michigan. Our regulatory system consists of a culture where efficacy is determined by regulators simply checking boxes rather than ensuring protection. This article explores the Flint water crisis and how it could have been prevented if key components of retrospective evaluation were required to facilitate the regulatory process and protect Americans as regulations were intended.

Find the full view in brief here.


STEPS is the technical publication of the Potomac Institute that encourages articles that introduce a bold and innovative idea in technology development, or that discuss policy implications in response to technology developments. We encourage you to read this issue of STEPS—Science, Technology, and Engineering Policy Studies. Please take a look at our website —http://www.potomacinstitute.org/steps/ and download the pdf. If you are interested in publishing in STEPS or if you wish to discuss a topic before completing an article please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is an independent, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit public policy research institute. The Institute identifies and aggressively shepherds discussion on key science and technology issues facing our society. From these discussions and forums, we develop meaningful science and technology policy options and ensure their implementation at the intersection of business and government.


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