EPA Urged to Step Up Drinking-Water Oversight

WASHINGTON (CN) – To stave off another lead crisis like that in Flint, Michigan, the Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency urged the agency to improve its oversight of state drinking water systems.

The report compiled by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality notes that more than $400 million in taxpayer funds have been spent by the EPA to address the drinking water crisis in Flint.

But the report also found MIchigan regulators failed to adhere to compliance standards for lead and copper rules in the state.

According to EPA inspector general, Arthur Elkins, the agency also woefully delayed its response to state and local officials.

In January 2016, the EPA announced it would offer assistance to Flint but that offer only came several months after an agency official expressed concern over reported lead levels in a Flint resident’s home.

“While oversight authority is vital, its absence can contribute to a catastrophic situation,” Elkins said Thursday.  “Flint residents were being exposed to lead in drinking water [and] the federal response was delayed in part because the EPA did not establish clear roles and responsibilities, risk assessment procedures, effective communication and proactive oversight tools.”

The drinking water in Flint became tainted with lead in 2014 following a switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River system.

The decision was a cost-saving bid by state officials but in the process, untreated water flowed from the Flint River into lead-ridden services lines connected to resident’s homes.

The toxic water began leeching into the water supply.

Lead poisoning can lead to permanent brain damage as well as attack the nervous system.

According to the EPA, any amount of lead over 15 parts per billion is unsafe. Several homes had excessively high levels of lead in their water at the height of the crisis.

In a 2016 CNN interview with Flint resident LeeAnne Walters, she said her home’s lead contamination level reached 13 parts per billion.

According to a 2017 report compiled by Yale University, the effects of the lead poisoning led to a rise in infertility and fetal deaths among the state’s residents.

Researchers found that women in Flint, in comparison to women in 15 economically similar cities in other areas of the state, saw a 12 percent drop in fertility after drinking the water for a year.

Fetal deaths shot up by 58 percent.

The state’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, has filed multiple criminal charges against state and local officials, including Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services director Nick Lyon.

On July 6, Todd Flood, the special prosecutor assigned to handle the Flint water crisis, added another involuntary manslaughter charge against Nick Lyon as well as an a separate misdemeanor charge.

Lyon was previously charged for the death for Robert Skidmore, an 85 year old man who contracted Legionnaires’ disease after drinking the contaminated water in 2015.

The additional involuntary manslaughter charge was for the death of John Snyder, an 83 year old Flint resident who consumed the water and died.

While Lyon faces charges, Governor Snyder has not suspended him.

The EPA did not immediately return request for comment.

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