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Flint Water Officials Face Charges

Thursday, April 21, 2016

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The first criminal charges have been filed against a former water department employee and two government officials for their conduct related to the water crisis in Flint, MI.

According to multiple reports Wednesday (April 20), the state’s attorney general has filed charges against:

  • Michael Glasgow, 40, of Flint, who served as the city's laboratory and water quality supervisor;
  • Michael Prysby, 53, of Bath, an official for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; and
  • Stephen Busch, 40, of DeWitt, the Lansing district coordinator for the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance.

District Judge Tracy Collier-Nix authorized the charges in a Flint courtroom that morning, at which those charged did not appear.

The three face eight felony charges and five misdemeanor charges, the Detroit Free Press indicated, adding that because the investigation remains active, more charges could be filed at a later time.

The three men now await the formal arraignment process.

Summary of Charges

Glasgow, who now serves as the city's utilities administrator, has been charged with tampering with evidence and willful neglect of duty as a public officer, CNN reported.

He faces the neglect of duty charge, a misdemeanor, for allegedly failing to perform the duties of a certified water treatment plant operator. His tampering charge comes from reportedly altering test results to suggest there was less lead in the city’s water, local news site MLive wrote.

Busch, who is on unpaid administrative leave from the DEQ office, and Prysby have been charged with two counts each of misconduct in office, tampering with evidence and violation of the state’s Safe Water Drinking Act, which includes both a treatment violation and a monitoring violation.

The pair received the misconduct in office charges because they allegedly “wilfully and knowingly” misled officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Genesee County Health Department.

Prysby was also charged with misconduct for granting a permit for the Flint Water Treatment Plant when he reportedly knew the plant could not deliver safe drinking water.

Alleged falsification of monitoring reports and lead-in-water testing results led to their evidence tampering charges.

Flint Water Plant
© / ehrlif

The three officials face a total of 13 charges, including 8 felony charges and 5 misdemeanor charges, which carry penalties between 4 to 5 years in prison per charge and/or fines of $10,000.

The Safe Drinking Water Act violations, both misdemeanors, involved Prysby and Busch’s alleged failure to require the addition of corrosion controls that would have prevented lead contamination, as well as for directing Flint residents to "pre-flush" their taps before taking water samples for testing and removing test samples that should have been included in lead level calculations.

The misconduct charges carry a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, and the evidence tampering charges bring a penalty of up to four years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, the Free Press noted.

Holding Officials Responsible

As previously reported, Flint residents have been dealing with troubling levels of lead in their water supply since April 2014, when the city switched its water supply from Detroit city water to the Flint River in what was supposed to be a cost-cutting measure.

In October, the city switched back to the Detroit supply after physicians, researchers and government officials acknowledged that the river was more corrosive than Lake Huron, which is the feeder source for Detroit’s water. The corrosive river water picked up lead more quickly when it reached lead service lines.

Since that time officials have been redirecting blame or resigning, Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency, and federal officials have stepped in to take over testing and to distribute bottled water.

More than 50 lawsuits have been filed since the start of the year, CNN noted. And, although it was the state’s decision to change the water source, some of the suits hold the city responsible for not doing enough in the 18-month period residents were getting their drinking water from the Flint River.

These charges, thought to be the first of more to come, have been issued just three months into an investigation led by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office into how the crisis developed.

"Each and every person who breaks the law will be held accountable," Schuette has said, according to the Detroit News.

Residents seem to feel the same. Nakiya Wakes told CNN that the current charges are “a start but only a start." She added, "I won't rest until the governor is charged. It was his person who pushed the change of water supply through and he knew there were problems but did nothing."

Flint skyline, Flint River
By Blueskiesfalling (Connor Coyne) / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The water supply is said to be "on its path to recovery"; although lead contamination levels still exceed federal standards, researchers indicate that the amount of lead in the homes tested appears to be falling.

In a news conference held Wednesday afternoon, Schuette announced that these charges "are only the beginning."

While more charges will be filed, he said, he would not identify additional parties in the ongoing criminal investigation. "There are no targets, and nobody's ruled out," he told reporters.

Path to Recovery?

Professor Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher who originally brought attention to the water crisis, noted that while Flint's water supply is "definitely on its path to recovery," lead contamination levels continue to exceed acceptable federal standards, CNN reported.

During testing in March, the Washington Post reported, researchers found that the number of homes showing high lead levels was decreasing, and even those that had levels above federal standards, the amount of lead appears to be falling.

The pipes are now being treated with higher levels of phosphates to build up the protective coating that will prevent lead from leaching, the Free Press said. Gov. Snyder told the paper that more water flowing in the system would help in that process, and he and other state officials are hopeful Flint residents will start using their taps again.

Edwards urges residents to keep using bottled or filtered water for cooking or drinking.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Corrosion control coatings; Corrosion protection; Health and safety; North America; Pipeline; Pipes; potable water; Quality Control; Water Works

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