Flint residents still hesitant to use water, despite officials' pleas

FLINT, Mich. --Officials are waving water fees in Flint, but the relief will only last 2 weeks. Beginning May 1st, residents will get free water so they can flush taps for 5 minutes twice a day at no charge. The effort is designed to speed up Flint's recovery.

Unfiltered water is still not safe to drink, though lead levels have dropped 20 percent since last summer. The improvement has been slower than expected because many residents are reluctant to open taps.

The water is safe for bathing, but a simple shower sends 21-year-old Stephanie Webber over the edge.

"If it's more than five minutes I get a panic attack, severe for hours," she said.

She was among the 91 diagnosed with legionnaires disease after the city started pumping water from the Flint River two years ago, causing lead and bacteria contamination. Her sister Victoria tested positive for lead in her bones, said mom Keri.

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Keri Webber washes dishes at her home in Flint, Michigan. The family is reluctant to use the tap water for pretty much anything else, despite urging from officials.

CBS News

"Frustrated's not even the word. I'm angry. I have hit angry and beyond," said their mom, Keri.

The water-phobia is family-wide. Tap water, they say, is only for dishes and laundry -- even the dogs get bottled water.

Showers are twice a week at most.

"We use the bath wipes for as long as possible until you absolutely have to use the shower," Keri said.

"Clean water that needs to flow through the system, in some Flint homes it is simply not happening," said Virginia Tech engineer Marc Edwards.

He says that by not using the tap water, residents are standing in the way of their own recovery. That's because chemical treatments are now being added to the water to help re-coat the lining in lead pipes.

"What this coating does is that it protects the water from the pipe corrosion, and it also protects the pipes from the water. So this is essential.

Without enough water moving through taps, Edwards says it could take years to re-coat the pipes.

Despite pleas from officials, Keri says she will not let water run unnecessarily inside the house, whether the it's free or not. She's afraid of what an open tap may release into the air.

"Do it in your home," she said.