EPA Official Warned State on Flint Water
An Environmental Protection Agency official who blew the whistle on the lead-contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, testified late last week that he told Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulators in February 2015 that without anticorrosive treatment, the city’s drinking water would present a public-health threat.
The testimony that the federal agency brought up the lead issue more than six months before the state acknowledged the problem publicly came during a preliminary hearing for four former state officials facing felony charges related to the crisis.
Stephen Busch, Michael Prysby, Patrick Cook and Liane Shekter-Smith all face charges of misconduct with regard to the lead contamination issue. Shekter-Smith and Busch separately face involuntary manslaughter charges as a result of the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, who allegedly contracted Legionnaire’s disease from contaminated Flint water.
The EPA Official
Miguel Del Toral, who worked out of the EPA’s Midwest office, testified Friday that he and other EPA representatives discussed the issue of possible lead contamination with DEQ officials after Flint switched its water supply to the Flint River in 2014.
Del Toral said a resident’s complaint about lead levels in her tap water tipped him off to the issue, but that Busch blamed the lead contamination on the resident’s in-house plumbing. According to Del Toral, the resident had PVC piping in her house and therefore the lead had to have originated further upstream in the Flint system. The levels of lead showing up in residents’ water during the crisis period were more consistent with contamination from service lines, Del Toral told state officials.
Del Toral says he told DEQ officials that without treatment with phosphates to prevent leaching of lead and other contaminants from service lines into the water, Flint’s drinking water did not meet federal standards.
The Water Crisis
Flint’s drinking water crisis began in April 2014, when the city chose to switch its water source from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River as an interim solution while a pipeline to carry water from Lake Huron to the communities of the newly formed Karegnondi Water Authority was being built. Flint is part of a three-county area that voted in 2010 to leave Detroit’s water supply and form the KWA.
Water from the Flint River was not treated with corrosion-control agents, and reportedly began to corrode the city’s aging pipes. Drinking water in many homes was contaminated with lead, leading to a public health crisis. A study released last year by University of Michigan researchers backed up the claim that it was the lack of treatment with orthophosphates that led to the leaching.
|Terese Olson / University of Michigan
A study released last year by University of Michigan researchers backed up the claim that it was the lack of treatment with orthophosphates that led to the leaching.
The state did not publicly acknowledge the possibility of lead contamination in Flint until September 2015; the city switched back to pretreated water from Detroit in October 2015.
A total of 13 state and local officials have faced charges that they ignored warnings and covered up potential contamination.
Prosecutors have also alleged that local officials knew the water treatment plant that was being brought online to treat Flint’s water was insufficient, but that they went forward with the plan anyway.