News Feature | January 22, 2016

Flint Crisis Has Fallout For State, Feds

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The federal government is facing accusations that it knew more about, and could have done more to palliate, the water crisis in Flint, MI.

The National Guard arrived in Flint this month to help stave off the effects of lead contamination in the water. Challenges have plagued the water supply in Flint ever since the city switched from Detroit water and began drinking Flint River water.

Now, the state is facing accusations that it tampered with reports to make the contamination seem less severe. Critics say state officials eliminated tests from two homes that would have shown toxic levels of lead, according to CNN.

Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech, told CNN: “In essence the state took an ‘F’ grade for Flint’s water report and made it into an ‘A’ grade.” The state said the modifications were valid, according to CNN.

It also appears the U.S. EPA may have been slow to publicly release information about the problem.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top Midwest official said her department knew as early as April about the lack of corrosion controls in Flint’s water supply — a situation that likely put residents at risk for lead contamination — but said her hands were tied in bringing the information to the public,” The Detroit News reported.

“Instead of moving quickly to verify the concerns or take preventative measures, federal officials opted to prod the [Department of Environment Quality (DEQ)] to act,” the report said, citing EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman.

EPA and the state DEQ found themselves at odds over how to respond.

“DEQ and EPA staffers were at loggerheads over dueling interpretations of the Lead and Copper Rule — a 25-year-old regulation designed to protect drinking water from metals contamination. The interpretation of the rule proved to be crucial after the city — under [governor-appointed] emergency managers — switched from Lake Huron water provided by the Detroit system to Flint River water as a cost-saving move in the spring of 2014,” the report said.

The EPA defends its decision to move through state channels.

“EPA officials argue that there wasn’t sufficient early evidence for any sweeping steps to be taken. Hedman said the EPA talked with its legal counsel about its authority to compel action — a question that wouldn’t be straightened out for months. In the interim, she said her agency urged Michigan to have its Department of Health and Human Services provide information on precautions for residents,” the report said.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a “state of emergency” in Flint this month. Since then, he has been working to give teeth to his declaration by providing bottled water, water filters, and other supplies, NBC News reported.

“The news came as churches, local organizations and out-of-state donors worked to provide drinking water — and as criticism mounted from residents who wondered how the governor could seemingly declare a state of emergency without backing it up,” the report said.

Even Snyder concedes that the Flint catastrophe is a mark in his record, per an interview with National Journal:

“It’s a dis­aster,” he said when asked about the com­par­is­on some crit­ics have made to the 2005 nat­ur­al dis­aster in New Or­leans that be­came a sym­bol of gov­ern­ment mis­man­age­ment — city, state, and fed­er­al. “It’s clearly a neg­at­ive on what we’ve ac­com­plished since I’ve been gov­ernor.”

To keep up with all of the drinking water developments in Flint, visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.