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Charges Filed Against Michigan Health Chief, Chief Medical Officer in Flint Water Probe

Charges Filed Against Michigan Health Chief, Chief Medical Officer in Flint Water Probe

Highest ranking officials charged over the water crisis.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Shuettte has filed charges against Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells in the Flint water probe.

Lyon faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office while Wells faces obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer. These charges stem from the “Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Flint area that led to 12 deaths after the city’s water supply was switched to the Flint River in April 2014.”

Lyon’s Charges

Detroit Free Press continued:

Lyon, 49, of Marshall is accused of causing the death of Robert Skidmore on Dec. 13, 2015 by failing to alert the public about a foreseeable outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. It’s a 15-year felony.

“Defendant Lyon was aware of Genesee County’s Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at least by Jan. 28, 2015 and did not notify the public until a year later,” the charging documents allege.

Lyon “exhibited gross negligence when he failed to alert the public about the deadly outbreak and by taking steps to suppress information illustrating obvious and apparent harms that were likely to result in serious injury.”

According to the charging documents, Lyon “willfully disregarded the deadly nature of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak,” later saying he “can’t save everyone,” and “everyone has to die of something.”

Lyon is also being charged with misconduct in office due to allegedly “instructing an official to discontinue an analysis that would help determine the cause of the outbreak.”

Wells’s Charges

Detroit Free Press also outlined these charges:

Wells, 54, of Ann Arbor is accused in connection with the obstruction of justice charge of providing false testimony to a special agent and threatening to withhold funding for the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership if the partnership did not cease its investigation into the source of the outbreak. That’s a five-year felony.

Wells is also charged with lying to a peace officer about the date she knew of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. That’s a two-year misdemeanor.

She allegedly lied to officials when she claimed that “she had no knowledge of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak until late September or early October of 2015, when in fact she knew about the outbreak in March 2015.”

Wells had an agreement with officials that she would not face charges if she did not lie to them.

The attorney general’s office has already charged “13 current or former government officials” in connection with the Flint water crisis. Lyon and Wells are the highest-ranking officials to have charges levied against them.

The Flint Water Crisis

Lead contaminated Flint’s drinking water supply “in April 2014 after the city switched from treated Lake Huron water supplied from Detroit to raw water from the Flint River, which was treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Officials admitted that no one required officials to place “corrosion-control chemicals” to the water, which meant that the “lead leached from the pipes, joints and fixtures into Flint households.”

Emergency managers Jerry Ambrose and Darnell Earley “wanted Flint to help finance the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), a new pipeline still under construction.” This way Flint did not have to pay Detroit for its drinking water. Neither one could get the bond to buy the new pipeline so they found a loophole to borrow money. They claimed that the money would go to “the clean-up of a troublesome lagoon of lime sludge (a by-product of water treatment).” But Ambrose and Earley gave the money to KWA.

The bond application said, though, that the city must use the Flint River for drinking water “while the KWA was being constructed.” From CNN:

Deciding to go with the KWA set off a chain of events. Flint needed to find a water source while it was being built. Its water plant was rushed into use. And then, emails show, Croft signed off on the decision not to add anti-corrosive agents (called phosphates) to the water supply out of fear it would grow bacteria.

But without those phosphates, the water corroded lead pipes and it leached into drinking water. Hundreds of children were poisoned.

In addition, the corrosion gave other bacteria — such as legionella, a cause of Legionnaires’ disease — a place to flourish, and Flint had one of the nation’s largest outbreaks of that disease. A dozen people died.

Legionnaires’ Disease

This disease is a rare form of pneumonia. From the CDC:

Legionella is a type of bacterium found naturally in freshwater environments, like lakes and streams. It can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made water systems like

Showers and faucets
Cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings)
Hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use
Decorative fountains and water features
Hot water tanks and heaters
Large plumbing systems

People cannot spread the Legionnaires’ disease. The CDC states that the disease spreads when the “Legionella grows and multiplies in a building water system, that contaminated water then has to spread in droplets small enough for people to breathe in.”


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stevewhitemd | June 14, 2017 at 5:47 pm

“Everyone has to die of something?”

Charge him with a capital offense and see how quickly he changes his tune.

the water corroded lead pipes and it leached into drinking water.

This could actually be hard to prove. Of course nowadays everyone is so environmentally hysterical they may not have to actually prove anything to get a conviction. Although lead pipes have, historically, been used to carry drinking water, I don’t think actual pipes made of sheet lead have been used since Detroit was Indian territory. What “lead pipes” means now is copper pipes joined together with ordinary lead-tin solder. And while that does have lead in it … and it’s possible for that lead to leach into the water being carried in the pipes … and modern building codes require that tin solder (sans lead) be used in plumbing work for drinking water … the area of solder actually exposed to water is so tiny that the quantities of leached lead are miniscule. Are they enough to cause damage? Depends on who you ask. A health inspector would say yes. And experienced physician is much more likely to say no.

This could turn into a battle of expert witnesses.

    daniel_ream in reply to tom swift. | June 14, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    It seems more likely that it will turn on whether the pipes were up to code and whether those charged knew that. That’s much easier to prove, since those under indictment had a legal duty to comply with the code.

    IANAL, but I imagine it would be similar to someone falling off a scaffold from a very low height because their supervisor ordered them not to comply with working at heights codes. One can find all kinds of experts who will argue that a fall from a three foot height isn’t going to kill you, but that’s not the point of law being argued.

      Milhouse in reply to daniel_ream. | June 14, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      Those charged had no duty to comply with the building code, since they weren’t building anything. They were running water through the pipes, not installing them or doing anything else to them.

      But whether there was any lead in the water, let alone whether it harmed anyone, would seem to be irrelevant to these charges, which relate only to the Legionnaires outbreak. It doesn’t matter what caused that, it could have been a completely unpreventable Act of God, the question is only how they handled it after they found out about it.

      I’m uncomfortable with a homicide charge, even involuntary manslaughter, merely for a failure to warn. Yes, he had a duty to warn the public, but that duty derived from his employment, so it was owed to public in their capacity as his employers, not to the public qua public. Therefore his failing in that duty ought to be a civil matter, not a criminal one.

        Tom Servo in reply to Milhouse. | June 14, 2017 at 7:07 pm

        I agree with you on this one, this should not be in criminal court. I just do not see how they can make an airtight linkage between the actions of the accused and someone contracting legionaries disease. It has occurred in other places, that didn’t have any pipe problems. I think the “but for” connection is far too tenuous to ever take it past a “reasonable doubt”.

        Now, civil liability based on a preponderance of the evidence? Yes, I think you can rationally get across that hurdle. But not “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

        Oh, and of course if he were a Democrat, no charges would ever be filed. That goes without saying.

          YellowSnake in reply to Tom Servo. | June 14, 2017 at 8:05 pm

          The problem occurred in the treatment plant, not the pipes and it occurred because they cut corners on the treatment. This was done as a cost saving measure. So the only real question is whether the right people are being charged.

          It was the politicians that put the pressure on to save money. Rick Snyder got the ball rolling and the only thing that happened to him is that he lost his office – along with the mayor of Flint.

          Milhouse in reply to Tom Servo. | June 15, 2017 at 12:24 am

          The problem occurred in the treatment plant, not the pipes

          If you’re referring to the lead problem that is an outright lie. The river water had no lead in it, and none was added in the treatment plant. More’s the pity, as it turns out, because had the problem been in the plant it would have been easy to fix once it was discovered. But no, the problem occurred in the pipes, after the water had left the plant. Because the river water had a lower pH than the Detroit water they used to get, it corroded the pipes, leaching lead. That’s why fixing the problem means replacing the pipes, which is a huge project.

          and it occurred because they cut corners on the treatment. This was done as a cost saving measure.

          More bulldust. The reason they decided not to put phosphates in the water was for fear of precisely what ended up happening even without them — the growth of dangerous bacteria.

          Now if you were referring to the legionnaires problem, rather than the lead, then yes, it may have occurred at the plant, but had nothing to do with their failure to add phosphates — indeed doing so could only have made it worse.

        YellowSnake in reply to Milhouse. | June 14, 2017 at 7:59 pm

        Since they were running a water treatment plant, they had a duty to keep lead and bacteria out of the water they WERE TREATING. The bacteria were a telltale sign that they were failing. Covering that up was a crime – assuming the facts prove out. There is probable cause and there was an indictment.

        In this day and age it most certainly was not an act of god.

        It wasn’t just a failure to warn. The facts were suppressed. There were people blowing the whistle and there were the aforementioned trying to discredit them. Kind of like climate change deniers.

          No, a measurable amount of bacteria in water is nothing like a predictive model that is based on dozens of variables, ignores thousands of other variables and has never been accurate. You don’t science, do you bro? LOL.

          YellowSnake in reply to YellowSnake. | June 14, 2017 at 9:52 pm

          Yes, LOL Paul. It is lol because a measurable amount was found at the treatment plant and a measurable amount of people got sick and a measurable amount died.

          I guess you are not very ‘engineery or sciency’. The design of an effective water treatment plant is well understood. There aren’t that many variables. The variables that ware most known in this case were money and politics. These were poor or black or both. Nobody purposely killed them. But if you speed in a school zone and kill a kid, try arguing that there were ‘variables’.

          If there is a measurable amount of Legionnaires bacteria at a plant and you drink the output, I cannot predict that you will get sick. But I can predict that some will. The other variables are dosage, immunity, health. But someone will be unlucky because someone was playing Russian Roulette.

          You’re not real bright are you? Of course the science of water treatment is well understood and quite mature. You know, it’s actually real science. What I was referring to was your asinine comment equating bacteria testing to climate ‘science.’ Try to keep up.

          YellowSnake in reply to YellowSnake. | June 14, 2017 at 11:39 pm

          Not very bright? OK. The remark was about your fellow travelers. They’re busy debating whether the pipes are lead or not. They’re speculating on culpability when they don’t understand the science, engineering or law. Tom Swift literally didn’t know his a$$ from his elbow, yet he pontificated on this matter.

          So I thought there was an analogy there. These people aren’t qualified to comment on any aspect of science; including climate science. Being dumb as I am, I am surprised I knew the concept of an analogy. What’s your excuse?

          Oh yeah, I was also trying to get someone’s goat. I guess it was yours. Hook, line and sinker – and from a dumbass!

      tom swift in reply to daniel_ream. | June 14, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      Well, no. Generally a change in code doesn’t mean that all pre-code work has to be demolished. The change usually applies to new construction or substantial rebuild/remodel/rehab projects. And exactly what counts as “substantial” is a constant point of contention. And sometimes the bank or financer of the project, or the insurer, dip their oars in too, complicating things further. But plumbing which conforms to an obsolete code is not automatically illegal, or even particularly unwise.

      If new construction isn’t up to current code (or, rather, the code current when the plumbing was installed), then somebody’s in trouble. But that doesn’t seem to be the situation here.

    “…the water corroded lead pipes and it leached into drinking water.”

    “This could actually be hard to prove….”

    No it wouldn’t. Lead pipes are lined with a coating which then develops scale to seal the lead in the pipe. The water has to meet very specific standards of corrosiveness for the very purpose of protecting that coating. The water is tested frequently on a daily basis. Corrosion is the only reason lead would be leaking into the water supply.

    These people are criminals. They falsified the testing, they lied every step of the way and there is a very good case to be made for racism.

    YellowSnake in reply to tom swift. | June 14, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Nope, they had actual lead mains and lead pipes that fed into homes. It is not that unusual in cities of Flint’s age. The lead forms a coating when combined with the minerals in the water. That coating does not flake off as long as you add the corrosion inhibitors.

    It is an absolute requirement that water treatment systems supplying lead pipes have the anti-corrosion chemicals. Somebody certified that the chemicals were being added. But when a woman’s children came down with lead poisoning, she obtained the budgets for the system. There was no line item for the corrosion inhibitors. People lied and others died.

    Despite your cynicism, this is absolutely proven science. There also was an extended period of time after the whistle was blown when the people charged attempted to stonewall. Hence the criminal charges. People died and children were poisoned. Save your cynicism for a more worthy cause.

    If it makes you feel any better. There are no good guys in this except for a civilian mother and Virginia Tech U. The city, state and EPA all tried to suppress the truth. But it was Rick Snyder and his Receiver who got the ball running. The Receiver went on to fuke up another project before he got canned. They even tried to discredit VT – sort of like the way you shot your wad without having the slightest grasp of the issue. Keep up the good work!

      I don’t know who gave you a thumbs down but that is entirely correct. This was an egregious case of official incompetence compounded by fraud, and a cover-up. The deaths were clearly preventable. I don’t know this is not at least involuntary manslaughter. It wasn’t just negligence but willful and dangerous malfeasance.

    YellowSnake in reply to tom swift. | June 14, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    You really don’t know what you are talking about. There were children with lead levels 10-20 times the allowable levels. Lead poisoning is not one of your debatable points. If by ‘experienced physicians’ you mean those who treat children with lead poisoning, then they would know the EXACT mechanism by which the lead poisons. They would know that the lead replaces the calcium used in bones and neuron synapses but does not perform the function of calcium. It is permanent and the damage is done to children that have a right to life after they are born – even if they are poor and black.

    I have seen you write some erroneous stuff, but never has there been an easier case to show that you don’t know what you are talking about. Will this humble you? I doubt it. Will it shame you? No. I can think of someone with the same qualities who has achieved great, but totally undeserved power. Keep up the good work!

    snopercod in reply to tom swift. | June 14, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    I always figured the “lead pipes” actually meant galvanized steel pipes, but you could be right about the soldered copper. It’s impossible to tell from news reports. Older plumbing solder used to be 50/50 tin/lead. Also, the standards on brass fittings used in plumbing have changed over the years to eliminate lead.

      YellowSnake in reply to snopercod. | June 14, 2017 at 10:00 pm

      Nope, some of the pipe were lead. Period. It is perfectly acceptable as long as the water is treated properly. Flint had been using the same pipes when it bought its water from Detroit. But the Flint plant had not been used in many years. It didn’t have the capability to add the anti-corrosion chemicals and the Receiver was determined to save money. So they ignored the science and then stonewalled the resulting damage. Besides the victims were black and/or poor.

      The irony is that most people on this site hate the govmint. But when it comes to screwing the powerless, you are willing to make an exception.

        scaulen in reply to YellowSnake. | June 15, 2017 at 9:59 am

        When it comes to poisoning Americans to save a dime, hang em. Unless all politicians are held accountable then none will be.

There are a couple of people throwing thumbs down votes around who haven’t researched this issue. Click on the links provided in this post for starters. Frontline also covered this in depth recently so you might look that one up too.

There is no ambiguity about what happened. This is one case where the headlines understate the evil. If you ask me, these criminals deserve worse than what they are being prosecuted for.

healthguyfsu | June 15, 2017 at 5:11 pm

You shouldn’t feed the troll…even the broken clock and all that.