Flint Facebook Video of Bottled Water Testing Positive for Lead is BS
A viral Facebook video showing a bunch of donated bottled waters testing positive for lead in Flint isn't as cut and dry as it looks.
Currently sitting at over a million views, this Facebook video, while well-intentioned, exhibits all the symptoms of half-baked "Facebook detective work" -- something we've seen a lot of in the wake of the Flint water crisis. While most of it is harmless, some of it spreads grossly inaccurate information, which only makes us look like morons in the public eye.
In this video, a woman uses a TDS meter to test a large sampling of bottled waters received through various donations in response to the Flint water crisis. As she dips the TDS meter into the first bottle (at 2:11) she explains, "They say red means that there's lead," in reference to the light on top of the device. Well, "they" are certainly an authority on the situation. Plus, it rhymes. Case closed, right?
While almost all of her samples result in a red light, she has one major detail wrong. That TDS meter does not test for lead -- regardless of what "they" say. "TDS" is an acronym for "Total Dissolved Solids," which is what those meters detect. What are total dissolved solids? Well, a simple Google search will get you this answer:
"Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) are the total amount of mobile charged ions, including minerals, salts or metals dissolved in a given volume of water, expressed in units of mg per unit volume of water (mg/L), also referred to as parts per million (ppm)."
Some of the more common things detected by a TDS meter include calcium, phosphates, nitrates, sodium, potassium, and chloride. According to Wikipedia, bottled water usually contains lower TDS levels than tap water, but still says that it contains them. In other words, these results are common for every type of bottled water -- not just the ones donated to Flint. Not only are they common, they're usually nothing to worry about.
To get a more credible opinion, we reached out to chemistry PhD student, former lab technician, and friend of the station, Anthony Seitz, who said this of the video:
"We've been told our entire lives to avoid using electronics in water. The TDS meter basically tests for conductivity of the water. A completely negative reading is basically the equivalent of saying 'water doesn't conduct electricity,' which it doesn't without the mobile ions. This means that either A.) you've been poisoned your entire life with the conductive water or B.) this video reveals nothing new about the water shown."
Plus, if water were that easy to test for lead, do you think the results from residential tests would take as long as they have been?
So what's the bottom line here? Don't believe everything you see on Facebook! How many times do we have to go over this?