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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Emails Show Inaction on Flint, Mich., Water Crisis

DETROIT (CN) - Emails released to show who knew what, when, in Michigan about Flint's water crisis show state officials knew nearly a year ago about the link between the contamination and a spike in Legionnaires' disease.

Gov. Rick Snyder publicly confirmed the link just last month, but Snyder's aide Jim Henry received an email about the connection on March 10, 2015, according to reports by the Associated Press and the watchdog group Progress Michigan.

"The increase of the illness closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to the Flint River water," Genesee County's environmental health supervisor wrote. "I want to make sure in writing that there are no misunderstandings regarding this significant and urgent public health issue."

Henry, who served as Snyder's director of urban initiatives, received the note in an email forwarded by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Though DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel noted the "uptick" in Legionnaire's cases, he was reluctant to rely on Henry's assertion about a connection without more testing.

Wurfel said it was "highly unlikely" to find the bacteria in the water but encouraged all involved agencies to "share what information we have and develop a response ... before the weather gets warm again."

The reports coincide with news that Darnell Earley, the embattled former emergency manager of Flint, will appear before Congress later this month to testify about his knowledge of switching the city's water supply to the corrosive Flint River.

Earley, a former emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, refused to appear at the first hearing on the crisis held Wednesday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Earley's absence prompted Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to order that U.S. marshals "hunt him down and serve him that subpoena."

Assuring the Detroit Free Press that Earley was not ducking Congress, attorney Scott Bolden said the first subpoena simply did not give them enough notice, calling on Early to testify within 12 to 14 hours.

Bolden said he was glad another one was issued.

"This gives us time to view documents and prepare so the information we share is accurate and complete," he said. "These are not easy issues. There are a lot of complex issues that the committee will be interested in hearing."

Bolden maintains the water-supply switch occurred before Earley was installed into power, and that Flint leaders approved the move.

The Virginia Tech professor who helped draw attention to the high lead levels in the water testified before Congress that the blame lies with state environmental workers.

"One-hundred percent of responsibility lies with those employees at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. There's no question," Marc Edwards told the committee

Edwards also called out Susan Hedman, the former Environmental Protection Agency official in charge of the Midwest, for her actions on internal memos calling attention to the lack of chemical treatment to the water.

While Democrats in the U.S. Senate derailed an energy bill Thursday for its failure to include funds for Flint, the Michigan Senate unanimously approved spending of $30 million to help Flint residents pay water bills that have become a point of contention since the water is unusable.

"The entire state continues to demonstrate unity in coming together for the residents of Flint, and I greatly appreciate the acts of cooperation, bipartisanship and good will that are advancing Flint's recovery," Gov. Snyder said.

Some Democrats lamented that the city and its residents need much more.

"We're appropriating $30 million to pay off water bills because it's the right thing to do, but paying off a water bill doesn't address the issue of lead in the body of children in Flint," Sen. Curtis Henfel Jr. of Meridian Township said.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said further funding discussions were welcome but wanted to provide some help as soon as possible.

"What we're dealing with right now is immediate relief for responsible rate payers," Meekhof said.

The spending bill now heads to the Michigan House of Representatives.

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