First Charges Filed in Flint, Mich., Water Crisis

     DETROIT (CN) — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on Wednesday afternoon confirmed the first set of criminal charges connected to the poisoning of drinking water in Flint.
     The announcement came several hours after Judge Tracy Collier-Nix with the Genesee County District Court approved the felony and misdemeanor charges against Flint utilities administrator Mike Glasgow and Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
     Glasgow is charged with tampering with evidence and willful neglect of duty as a public officer. Busch and Prysby are both charged with misconduct in office, tampering with evidence and violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
     There is no indication yet of when the trio will be arraigned.
     The charges come two years after Flint’s emergency manager switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River.
     A lack of corrosion-control measures caused lead from the city’s aging system to leach lead into the water supply, subjecting thousands to possible lead poisoning and other illnesses like Legionnaires’ disease. In addition to 12 deaths connected to Legionnaires, residents worry about the irreversible brain damage and other health problems that lead poisoning is said to cause in children.
     Gov. Rick Snyder did not declare a state of emergency in Flint until this past January.
     Since then, accountability for the disaster has devolved into a warped game of hot potato.
     In addition to Snyder, who appointed Flint’s emergency manager, investigators have are studying the role played by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which was responsible for performing corrosion control, and the Environmental Protectiis on Agency, which oversees the state’s efforts.
     In a bid to persuade constituents that their water is finally safe to drink, Snyder visited a Flint home Monday and made a big show of drinking filtered water.
     The home Snyder visited is part of Michigan’s sentinel site testing program.
     Outfitted with lead pipes, the home’s unfiltered water supply has tested well above the federal action level for lead of 15ppb, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
     Snyder had announced on April 15 that residents of Flint should use filtered tap water instead of bottled water, but residents proved wary.
     “I completely understand why some Flint residents are hesitant to drink the water and I am hopeful I can alleviate some of the skepticism and mistrust by putting words to action,” Snyder said in a statement.
     Snyder left the home with several gallons of water and said that he plans on drinking it while “at home and at work.” He also said that his wife, Sue Snyder, is “on board with this” and will also be drinking the Flint water.
     “Flint residents made it clear that they would like to see me personally drink the water, so today I am fulfilling that request,” the governor said. “And I will continue drinking Flint water at work and at home for at least 30 days.”
     Water-quality experts indicated earlier this month that the water in Flint is safe to drink, as long as it is filtered. They are also recommending a flushing protocol for all homes to allow water treatments to flow better and get rid of pieces of lead from the pipes.
     Michigan has already agreed to credit water and sewer bills for the added cost of the pipe-flushing process, which flushes approximately 600 gallons through each home.
     The state’s two U.S. senators meanwhile joined nine other lawmakers in Washington on Wednesday in introducing a bill to remove lead from pipes and repair a water infrastructure they say is crumbling across the country.
     “Through a combination of loans, grants and tax credits, the True Leadership Act would inject over $70 billion over the next 10 years into water infrastructure and lead relief programs,” according to a statement by the 11 Senate Democrats sponsoring the bill.
     A clumsy acronym, the bill’s name stands for Testing, Removal and Updated Evaluations of Lead Everywhere in America for Dramatic Enhancements that Restore Safety to Homes, Infrastructure and Pipes Act of 2016
     U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, championed the bill in an announcement this morning at the Senate’s radio-television gallery.
     It calls for accelerated development of new water technologies, and for states to face a mandatory duty of “testing and notification of lead in water systems.”
     “For every public dollar we invest in upgrading our water infrastructure, our GDP grows by more than $6,” the lawmakers said.
     From Michigan, the bill has backing by Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow.
     With the city employing one of those charged, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Glasgow has been placed on administrative leave.
     “I feel it’s important and necessary for those who played a part in this crisis to be held accountable,” Weaver said in a statement. “There is plenty of blame to go around, from state policies that cut revenue sharing to cities such as Flint (where we have lost $63 million in the past 15 years), to state budget cuts that the U.S. EPA said diminished the ability of the state’s water quality enforcement operations. I’m not here to make judgments on anyone, but I do want the facts and I think the citizens of Flint deserve that.”
     Weaver also applauded the Michigan Senate for just passing the $127 million supplemental budget bill Snyder had requested to help Flint, including $25 million to replace lead-tainted pipes.
     “We urge the Michigan House to quickly follow the Senate’s lead so we can hire crews to get this vital project underway,” Weaver said.
     Schuette noted that each felonies carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison, plus fines.
     “The justice system in Michigan is not rigged,” Schuette said in a statement. “Anyone that says Michigan has a wink-and-nod justice system is wrong. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, if you break the law there will be consequences.
     Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said investigators “will keep working until we get to the bottom of this.”

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