Photo: AP

According to the Guardian, at least 33 cities across the eastern United States have used water-testing “cheats” to conceal dangerous levels of lead. Twenty-one cities used the same techniques that resulted in felony charges against three government employees in Flint, Michigan, accused of misleading regulators.

The crisis in Flint was precipitated by a dubious testing regime, as well as cost-cutting decisions and delays by environmental officials to respond to the toxic water emergency. The Guardian has found that cities including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee enacted similar testing regimes.

Thousands of documents detailing water testing practices over the past decade reveal:

  • Despite warnings of regulators and experts, water departments in at least 33 cities used testing methods over the past decade that could underestimate lead found in drinking water.
  • Officials in two major cities – Philadelphia and Chicago – asked employees to test water safety in their own homes.
  • Two states – Michigan and New Hampshire – advised water departments to give themselves extra time to complete tests so that if lead contamination exceeded federal limits, officials could re-sample and remove results with high lead levels.
  • Some cities denied knowledge of the locations of lead pipes, failed to sample the required number of homes with lead plumbing or refused to release lead pipe maps, claiming it was a security risk.

The Guardian requested water-testing documents from 81 of the largest cities east of the Mississippi River; 43 cities responded; 33 had distorted their test results, ignoring EPA guidelines.

The cities that do follow the EPA guidelines are Cincinnati, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; and Mobile, Alabama. Others—Mount Pleasant, South Carolina; Buffalo, New York; Boston, Massachusetts; Worcester, Massachusetts; Lewiston, Maine; and the state health departments of Rhode Island and Maine—said they would follow the guidelines when they test next.

Sorted by region the cities the Guardian found that had violated the EPA’s guidelines are:

New England

  • Boston, MA
  • Worcester, MA
  • Springfield, MA
  • Bridgeport, CT
  • Portland, ME
  • Lewiston, ME
  • Bangor, ME
  • South Burlington, VT


  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Jersey City, NJ
  • Albany, NY
  • Croton-on-Hudson, NY


  • Chicago, IL
  • Detroit, MI
  • Columbus, OH
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Aurora, IL
  • Rockford, IL
  • Warren, MI
  • Galesburg, IL
  • Sebring, OH


  • Miami, FL
  • Tampa, FL
  • Greensboro, NC
  • St. Petersburg, FL
  • Augusta, GA
  • Jackson, MS
  • Charleston, SC
  • Mount Pleasant, SC
  • Bowling Green, KY
  • Southaven, MS

Read the entire investigation here.