Sunday, May 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

EPA Takes Over Testing of Flint Water for Lead

DETROIT (CN) - Cracking the whip on the Flint water crisis, the Environmental Protection Agency accepted the resignation of an area official Thursday and announced its takeover of future lead testing, saying the slow response from city and state leaders put residents in "imminent" danger.

Susan Hedman, whom President Barack Obama appointed to head the EPA office that includes Michigan, tendered her resignation amid intensifying criticism over Flint's contaminated water supply.

Though tests found alarming lead levels in the water more than a year ago, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality disputed the reports at the time and maintained the water was safe.

The EPA faces criticism for having deferred to those opinions, delaying any treatment of the water with corrosion controls.

"We can say with high confidence, that if the [corrosion controls] had been used, nearly all of the problems that have occurred - from lead to leaks to possibly Legionnaires' disease - would not have occurred," Marc Edwards, a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech University who helped uncover high levels of lead in Flint's water, told the Detroit News.

With the gears finally in motion to clean up Flint's water and assign blame for the problem's escalation, the EPA issued an order and letter Thursday that accuses state and city leaders of "inadequate transparency and accountability" with regard to sharing the latest testing information and reacting to citizen complaints.

Given one day to comply with the order, Gov. Rick Snyder's office responded that it will work with the agency.

To provide as much information as possible regarding lead levels, the order directs the state to share detailed testing results on a public website and to inventory homes with lead lines pipes that are still being told their water is unsafe.

The order also calls on state leaders to develop an independent panel to investigate and advise their response and actions. The city of Flint must show it has the "technical, managerial and financial capacity" to ensure that all testing has been completed before any future solutions are enacted.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, proposed Thursday that Gov. Snyder should be called to testify before a congressional hearing about the crisis.

Snyder's office has reportedly said it received no such invites yet. Lawrence requested the hearing last week.

President Obama, appearing at the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Thursday, said that more funding could be on the way to help the city of Flint recover.

"In last month's bipartisan budget agreement, we secured additional funding to help cities like yours build water infrastructure," Obama said, "and that includes more than $80 million for the state of Michigan."

The funding would come from a federal revolving loan fund that can be used for infrastructure updates. Even if all $80 million was allocated, early estimates peg costs to replace the aging pipes a $700 million to $1 billion.

Gov. Snyder waived his state exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act and released 274 pages of partially redacted emails Wednesday.

The messages detail a slow response and worries from staff members that the situation was being politicized and overblown. The messages also show reluctance to believe the testing reports and weighing the financial ramifications of the response. The city's water-supply switch to the Flint River in 2014 occurred under the direction of a Snyder-appointed emergency manager.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.