Bath night for Flint woman: A 15-minute drive

Flint, Lela Lovelace

FLINT, Mich. (WOOD) -- Every other night is bath night for 76-year-old Lela Lovelace, which means packing an overnight bag and leaving her home in Flint.

"Are you getting ready to go?" Lovelace asked her daughter as they prepared to leave.

This is what bath night has been like since a test found too much lead in her water -- way too much.

The first test of her home on Stevenson Street found 6,290 parts per billion of lead. Anything more than 15 is bad. Her water was 419 times worse; more like hazardous waste.

Lela Lovelace lead levels 033116At the time, it was the city's worst.

"That's the dirty water right there," Lovelace said as her daughter ran a faucet in her basement.

"It's just a mess," she continued. "You can't do nothing with it."

She didn't give water any thought when she bought the home last year at a bargain -- $25,000 -- a home that sold a dozen years ago for $94,900.

"I thought I had found me a nice place to live; nice, clean place to live," she said.

She moved from Clio, where nobody lives in fear of their faucets.

"Can't drink the water, can't take a bath in the water, can't do nothing but flush the stool," she said of the Flint water.

She cooks with bottled water, brushes her teeth with it, washes dishes with it.

'IT'S DEPRESSING'

But every other day, Lovelace takes a bath at her daughter's apartment 15 minutes away in Clio.

"Every other day," she said.

"It's depressing," said Sheila Hopkins, another of her daughters, who lives with her.

"I'm 76 years old," Lovelace said. "I have to get up a little bag, pack it and go somewhere to take a bath and come back, every other day.

"Getting a bag, packing it up, overnight clothes, like I'm going camping like a little kid. Putting all my stuff in it, everybody watching me going out the door with it, going up there. The next morning, here's me coming back with the little bag again."

This crisis started when the city switched to the Flint River for its water in 2014 in an effort to save money. The highly corrosive water damaged the service lines, drawing lead that was then sent into homes. Even after switching back to Detroit water last October, lead levels remain high in many homes.

A follow-up test in February found 971 parts per billion in Lovelace's water.

TEST RESULTS UP AND DOWN

The latest test this month dropped to 42, still nearly three times the danger level but headed in the right direction.

"They keep telling us it's up,  it's down, it's up, it's down, it's up, it's down, it's up," Lovelace's daughter said.

The lead is also in Lovelace's blood -- up to 7 five micrograms per deciliter, which is slightly elevated for an adult. They're waiting for results for her 12-year-old grandson, who lives with her.

>>Target 8: Life after lead

Lovelace also is waiting for the city to replace her lead pipes and fix the problem.

"They said we got the highest level, they going to put new pipes. They come, took pictures of my pipes in the basement and that's all they did," she said. "Still waiting."

In the meantime, it's bath night.

"You got your medicine?" she asked her daughter as they packed their bags.

WAITING FOR A NEW PIPE

As they drove through Flint, they passed a street where workers were replacing lead pipes. She wondered why others had recently started getting new pipes, like the 92-year-old woman who lives four miles away.

"I feel blessed to have this done," said the 92-year-old woman, Geraldine Turner. "Especially to be among the first to get it done."

But the lead levels in Turner's water?

"One was 16 and the other was 17," Turner said.

Waldorf & Sons Excavating crew foreman Brian Damon holds the first lead service line removed from Flint after digging for hours on Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Flint, Mich.
Waldorf & Sons Excavating crew foreman Brian Damon holds the first lead service line removed from Flint after digging for hours on Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Flint, Mich.

Her highest level, 17 parts per billion, is barely above the danger level and nowhere hear the 6,290 at Lovelace's home.

Last week, a crew outside Turner's home coaxed the old lead pipe from six feet under the road.

"I was surprised that they called me and I'm glad that they did, to see if I wanted this work done," Turner said.

As the soft lead pipe snaked out and over the curb, a copper pipe, a safe pipe, followed close behind, taking its place. It was supposed to take two hours. It took almost the whole day.

Across town, Lela Lovelace is still waiting.

Until then, she'll continue her trip, every other night, to take a bath and spend the night at her daughter's home 15 minutes away.

"It's really depressing," Lovelace said. "It's stressful. It makes you mad, too."

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