Lessons From Flint For Your Restaurant


Like everybody in the water and hospitality business, I’ve been following the water contamination in Flint, Michigan. It has evolved into a public health crisis that will take years and millions of dollars to remedy. As you have read, thousands of children and restaurant and foodservice operators and customers have been needlessly exposed to high levels of lead in the water supply.

In April, 2014, Flint in a cost cutting measure decided that it would switch over from the Great Lakes water it was buying from the City of Detroit to local river water. So now the challenge is to replace the corroded pipes that are carrying contaminated water as soon as possible, and to ensure that the city of nearly 100,000 has access to clean water.

I’m not here to talk about the consequences of cost cutting, government negligence, and environmental politics.

I want to talk about how Flint may teach us how to do our part to protect the water supply as part of our local communities.

It’s a tricky subject because as a food service operator, we are balancing the obvious priority of a safe water supply -the taste we need to keep our dining customers happy.

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In the simplest of terms, water from a safe source will run consistently with 8 grains per gallon. The US Bureau of Standards would call that hard. In our industry it would be called moderately hard. When Flint was using the Detroit water, it had nothing to worry about because lake water is typically stable and will be above 7 grains. The challenge then becomes that a good cup of coffee needs to be in the three and five grains.

When you get colored water like they have in Flint, it’s coming from lead.  That does not necessarily mean contamination. Keep in mind, for many years in Brooklyn water connections were in fact wrapped with lead. You never see it in the other Boroughs because the water is stable. It’s an on-going conversation for us with the City of New York Water department to discuss whether the TDS (total dissolved solids) makes the water aggressive or stable. That’s a cumulative amount of all the dissolved solids in the water, minerals and metals etc.

Another great lesson and example is what happened in Walketon, Ontario several years back. There was a similar issue in which a water company was being criminally negligent about the treatment of water. The local Tim Horton’s donut store refused to use the local supply until the water company management cleaned it up.

When Tim Horton’s stopped using bottled water and began using the local water, the entire community breathed a sigh of relief and resumed normal water useage.

The lesson from Flint is that as a member of your local community, your neighbors and customers look to you to be the barometer of what’s going on with local water.  So take the responsibility seriously. With today’s technology it has become as simple as “Googling” New York City Water.

We would also be happy to field any questions that you have.

Brian Madden is a New Hyde Park , NY native. The Western Connectcut University graduate has built a reputation as one of the nation’s leading experts on water filtration. In his current post with Pentair, he is handling sales in the Northeast. Madden’s career includes successful stints with Pepsi in Las Vegas, Metro NY with Hoshizaki as well as being deployed by Pentair to China.