“This was a disaster 40 years in the making.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has found itself at the center of another environmental crisis.
The epicenter of this particular disaster is Flint, Michigan. It’s drinking water has been contaminated with elevated levels of lead, a fact known to several regulatory agencies for many months. Tragically, instead of protecting people, these officials opted to wring their hands and kick the can down the bureaucratic road.
Michigan resident and conservative activist Lloyd Conway, who lives in a nearby town, summarizes the latest bureaucratic fiasco.
“This disaster has been 40 years in the making,” Conway explained. “Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager to address Flint’s long time fiscal problems. The manager, looking to reduce costs, opted to start obtaining water from the nearby Flint River instead of paying Detroit for the supply. The river had contaminants from years of auto manufacturing, and acted corrosively on the pipes to leach out the lead.”
Residents noticed the switch quite quickly. Family pets would get ill after drinking the water, and its appearance and odor were such that residents began using bottled water for drinking and bathing.
Instead of finding a solution quickly, a group of bureaucrats handled the complaints by massaging the numbers and lying about the status of system protections.
Lead levels in Flint’s drinking water would have spurred action months sooner if the results of city testing that wrapped up in June had not been revised by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to wrongly indicate the water was safe to drink, e-mails show.
The records — obtained by the Michigan ACLU and by Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who helped raise concerns about Flint’s water — show how state officials first appear to have encouraged the City of Flint to find water samples with low lead levels and later told Flint officials to disqualify two samples with high readings. The move changed the overall lead level results to acceptable from unacceptable.
The e-mails also show that DEQ district coordinator Stephen Busch told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 27 that Flint had “an optimized corrosion control program” to prevent lead from leaching into the drinking water from pipes, connections and fixtures. In fact, the city — disastrously — had no corrosion control program.
How high was the concentration of lead, a compound known to cause anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage as well as neurological problems and mental retardation in exposed children? The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham has summarized the findings of the Virgina Tech group that did the research, and compares them against the level that the EPA deems as “cause for concern”:
The professor who conducted the sampling, Dr. Marc Edwards, was in “disbelief.”
“We had never seen such sustained high levels of lead in 25 years of work,” he said.
According to Edwards, the team retested the water with extra quality controls and assurance checks, and obtained the exact same results.
The Virginia Tech Research Team set-up a website with a gallery of graphic images of Flint resident LeeAnne Walters’ tap water containing rust and metal particles large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Walters’ 4-year old son has diagnosed with lead poisoning.
Apparently the federal agency knew about the matter in April, 2015 and opted to remain silent.
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.
Starting with inquiries made in February, the federal agency battled Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality behind the scenes for at least six months over whether Flint needed to use chemical treatments to keep lead lines and plumbing connections from leaching into drinking water. The EPA did not publicize its concern that Flint residents’ health was jeopardized by the state’s insistence that such controls were not required by law.
Instead of moving quickly to verify the concerns or take preventative measures, federal officials opted to prod the DEQ to act, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman told The Detroit News this week. Hedman said she sought a legal opinion on whether the EPA could force action, but it wasn’t completed until November.
The state didn’t agree to apply corrosion controls until late July and didn’t publicly concede until October that it erroneously applied the federal Lead and Copper Rule overseeing water quality.
President Obama signed an emergency declaration Saturday that clears the way for federal aid for Flint. However, the President denied the Snyder’s disaster declaration request based on the legal requirement that such relief is intended for natural events, fires, floods or explosions. Michigan’s governor is considering an appeal, given the magnitude of the problem.
“Snyder is leading from behind,” Conway noted. “I would suggest he lead from the front, like Rudy Giuliani did with 9-11. Snyder needs to move operaions to Flint, pass out the water, and be right there dealing with the situation.”