Companies Face Charges on Water Poisoning of Flint, MI

     FLINT, Mich. (CN) — Blame for Flint’s lead-poisoning crisis belongs at the feet of multinational water-engineering firm Veolia, Michigan officials said Wednesday.
     The state attorney general held a press conference this morning in connection to his office’s filing of a complaint in Genesee County Circuit Court against Paris, France-based Veolia and three U.S. subsidiaries.
     Veolia began consulting on Flint early last year, according to the complaint, but “totally failed to identify the problem, made no effort to understand the root cause, and recommended measures that made the situation far worse.”
     The problem in Flint stemmed its water-supply switch in April 2014, as commanded by the city’s emergency manager.
     While Flint had historically bought Lake Huron water from Detroit, the city’s emergency manager had it start tapping into the polluted Flint River as a cost-cutting manager.
     State officials failed to apply corrosion-control measures first, however, which caused Flint’s aging pipes to leach lead into the water. Thousands were sickened before Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency.
     Though the city is back on Detroit’s water system, Flint citizens remain under orders to use a filter because of lead that remains in the system.
     “The more I discover and decipher the who, what, when, where, how of this Flint water crisis the angrier I become,” Schuette said at the press conference.
     In addition to accusing Veolia of professional negligence and fraud, the state takes aim at Houston, Texas-based engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, as well as that company’s subcontractor, Leo A. Daly Co., of Omaha, Nebraska.
     “Many things went tragically wrong in Flint, and both criminal conduct and civil conduct caused harm to the families of Flint and to the taxpayers of Michigan,” Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “In Flint, Veolia and LAN were hired to do a job and failed miserably. Their fraudulent and dangerous recommendations made a bad situation worse.”
     Schuette held this morning’s press conference with Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, Special Assistant Attorney General Noah Hall, Special Counsel Todd Flood, Chief Investigator Andy Arena and Chief Deputy Investigator Ellis Stafford.
     “The point is that while there may be lead pipes everywhere,” Schuette told reporters. “The difference in Flint is that people committed crimes and that a global company and a Texas company botched their job of providing safe treated water.”
     The state plans to seek “hundreds of millions of dollars” in damages.
     Schuette notes that Veolia took taxpayer money to study the crisis in Flint, only to proclaim that the city’s drinking water was “in compliance with state and federal regulations, and based on those standards, the water is considered to meet drinking water requirements.”
     While Veolia began working with Flint in February 2015, the state says Lockwood, Andrews & Newman’s efforts there began two years earlier “to prepare the city water plant to treat new sources of drinking water, including the Flint River.”
     When the company issued a report on Safe Drinking Water Act compliance in 2014, it “did not address the issue of corrosion control and took no action to implement corrosion control,” according to Schuette’s statement on the complaint today.
     “LAN then produced a second report, in August 2015, regarding Safe Drinking water Act compliance and again failed to address the hazards of lead in Flint’s water.”
     Schuette says LAN’s recommendations of flushing fire hydrants “likely contributed to artificially low levels of lead in residential water tests.”
     Veolia called the claims “inaccurate and unwarranted.”
     Predicting that it will ultimately be cleared of any wrongdoing or responsibility, Veolia noted that “the official report from the Flint Water Advisory Task Force … contained no reference to Veolia North America and assigned the company no blame or responsibility for the current crisis.”
     “Attorney General Schuette has never spoken with Veolia North America, interviewed the company’s technical experts or asked any questions about our one-time, one-month contract with Flint,” Veolia said in a statement.
     The company emphasized that its “engagement with the city was wholly unrelated to the current lead issues.”
     “In fact, lead and copper testing were specifically not included in the company’s scope of work because the city represented that it was itself conducting required testing at the time of our analysis,” Veolia added.
     An LAN spokesman rejected the accusations as well.
     “The attorney general has blatantly mischaracterized the role of LAN’s service to Flint and ignores the findings of every public investigation into this tragedy that the key decisions concerning the treatment of the water from the Flint River were made by the City of Flint and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ),” LAN said in a statement. “The attorney general specifically referred to a decision not to provide appropriate corrosion control, which resulted in a significant decline in water quality, a decision that was made by the city and the MDEQ, not by LAN. Contrary to statements by the attorney general, LAN was not hired to operate the plant and had no responsibility for water quality, but, and although LAN was not asked, LAN had regularly advised that corrosion control should be added and that the system needed to be fully tested before going online. The Flint Water Advisory Task Force found that this tragedy was ‘a story of government failure’ at all levels. We are surprised and disappointed that the state would change direction and wrongfully accuse LAN of acting improperly. LAN will vigorously defend itself against these unfounded claims.”
     Flint Mayor Karen Weaver meanwhile thanked the attorney general for his filing.
     “It’s disturbing to hear that companies hired to ensure the safety of the city’s water supply may not have done what they were paid to do and that those alleged actions may have been a factor in causing lead to enter into Flint’s water supply,” Weaver said in a statement.
     The complaint today comes on the heels of criminal charges Schuette brought in April against two state workers and one city worker over the Flint crisis.
     Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby are scheduled for a preliminary exam hearing on July 20 in Genesee County Circuit Court.
     Michael Glasgow reached a plea deal that requires him to serve as a witness in the case.

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