News Feature | March 23, 2016

Lawmakers Roast EPA Official: 'Special Place In Hell'

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Lawmakers did not beat around the bush at a congressional hearing this month about how the U.S. EPA responded to the lead contamination crisis in Flint, MI.

Members of the House Oversight Committee “excoriated a former Environmental Protection Agency official for not responding more forcefully when she learned last year that Flint was not adding a chemical to its new water supply that would have prevented the city’s pipes from corroding and leaching lead,” The New York Times reported

“The former official, Susan Hedman, testified that limited enforcement options had kept her from acting more aggressively to order corrosion control, saying, ‘I don’t think E.P.A. did anything wrong, but I do believe we could have done more,’” the report said.

Hedman resigned in January from the regional EPA office overseeing Flint. Members of both parties gave her an earful at the hearing.

“There’s a special place in hell for actions like this,” said Rep. Earl Carter, R-GA, referring to the failure to alert Flint residents about lead problems.

Hedman was not the only official who testified before the House Oversight panel. Also appearing were Darnell Earley, Flint’s former state-appointed emergency manager, and Dayne Walling, the city’s former mayor.

Hedman told the committee she took action as soon as she learned of the lead problems in Flint. “[She said] she first learned of the city's lack of corrosion control on June 30, 2015, roughly 14 months after the city's drinking water source was switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River,” Michigan Live reported.

“I did not sit on the sidelines,” she said, per the report.

It wasn’t just Republicans who offered tough criticism about the EPA’s response to Flint.

“Why, in July or August, didn’t you just stand up and scream, stop this?” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-CA. “To me, this is negligence bordering on deliberate indifference.”

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, took heat from the Oversight Committee, as well. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, labeled him an “absentee governor” and called the governor to resign.

Flint was thrust into the national news this year when the governor declared a state of emergency over a lead contamination crisis that is taking a toll on public health. Everything from lead to disinfectant byproducts have plagued the supply since the city switched from Detroit water and began drinking Flint River water two years ago.

For all of our Flint coverage, visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.