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Original article URL: http://bridgemi.com/2016/02/where-blame-leads-so-far-in-flint-water-crisis/

A Truth Squad companion/Public sector

Where blame leads so far in Flint water crisis

The litany of mistakes that caused lead poisoning in Flint’s drinking water – and responsibility for those gross errors – will be debated for years by investigators, lawyers, politicians, the media, and the Michigan public.

Right now, as more news and finger pointing comes out daily, there are as many questions as answers.

No one is exactly sure how many Flint residents – especially young children – experienced elevated blood lead levels since Flint switched its drinking water source to the Flint River nearly two years ago. The full extent of the exact damage on individuals may be impossible to fully determine, especially among Flint’s vulnerable, low-income residents who already face many challenges.

Resolution of the ongoing water crisis remains distant. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that new filters given to Flint residents to make the tainted water safe to drink likely did not fully protect Flint residents with especially high levels of lead coming out of their taps. Long term, the EPA has said it has serious concerns that Flint “lacks the professional expertise and resources” necessary to “safely manage” the city’s drinking water supply.

Today, Bridge Magazine’s Michigan Truth Squad publishes a more than 30,000-word timeline of the Flint debacle, the most comprehensive published, in one place, to date. It is intended as an informal public repository of all major public records relating to Flint’s water crisis. It is presented for local residents and a national audience looking to separate fact from fiction and understand more deeply the full dimensions of this man-made tragedy. A complete portrait of the Flint disaster will likely take many months of official investigation and years of litigation.

The reams of currently available information presented in the Truth Squad timeline points in five directions. Readers can make their own conclusions as to who or what agency is most to blame.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

MDEQ is responsible for drinking water safety and regulation across our entire state. This state agency failed the people of Flint – and did so with extreme disrespect.

MDEQ’s complete failure to anticipate and prevent the Flint water disaster is so drastic that it calls into question the agency’s ability to regulate and safeguard public drinking water supplies statewide. Indeed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now investigating MDEQ’s ability (or lack thereof) to do just that.

As the Truth Squad timeline documents, MDEQ failed in the following key ways:

  1. MDEQ drinking water regulators allowed the City of Flint to switch drinking water sources to the Flint River in 2014 without requiring any treatment to control corrosion of Flint’s water mains. Flint River water is highly corrosive. It rusts old city water mains. That corrosion caused lead to leach into the drinking water. These chemical reactions have long been known in the water safety community. MDEQ did not act to anticipate this problem, which would result in disaster, after the Flint River switch.
  2. MDEQ drinking water regulators grossly misinterpreted federal regulations requiring chemical treatments to control corrosion in Flint water mains.
  3. MDEQ drinking water regulators ignored, and attempted to discredit, numerous serious warning signs of corrosion leading to lead poisoning in the Flint drinking water system. General Motors declared early on that the Flint River water was too corrosive for its manufacturing processes. MDEQ regulators said GM’s fleeing from Flint water was not a problem. Within weeks of the 2014 water supply switch, Flint residents complained of discolored, smelly, bad-tasting water and related health maladies. MDEQ issued some minor violations, but reacted with little to no urgency. For example, in a February 2015 briefing memo to Governor Rick Snyder, MDEQ acknowledged “hiccups” in Flint drinking water quality but concluded, “it’s not like an eminent threat to public health.” (Note: We believe DEQ meant “imminent,” meaning urgent.)
  4. MDEQ drinking water regulators disputed, ignored, and attempted to discredit crucial alarms issued by an EPA drinking water regulator. That EPA official, Miguel Del Toral, warned this state agency repeatedly, beginning in February 2015, that the lack of corrosion control in Flint water mains would lead to a serious lead safety hazard in drinking water supplies. In numerous communications, MDEQ officials denigrated Del Toral by describing him as acting on his own without authority, and consistently fought against Del Toral’s conclusion that corrosion control treatment should have been in place as soon as Flint switched to Flint River drinking water. Not until mid-October 2015, when Flint was in full-blown crisis, would MDEQ acknowledge the mistake.
  5. As the Flint crisis built into full-bore eruption in 2015, MDEQ responded with a series of incredible public statements that we expect will be built into academic case studies of some of the worst, most insensitive and arrogant crisis communication messaging in the history of public relations. Many of those statements are on display in the Truth Squad’s gallery of key statements in the Flint crisis, which is also published today.

In summary, the overwhelming weight of the currently available public record points directly to MDEQ as the party in the best position to prevent lead from poisoning Flint’s drinking water supply once the decision was made to switch to the Flint River. The agency utterly failed to meet that fundamental responsibility.

In December, the Flint Water Advisory Task Force, an investigative body established by Gov. Rick Snyder, concluded: “We believe the primary responsibility for what happened in Flint rests with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Although many individuals and entities at the state and local levels contributed to creating and prolonging the problem, MDEQ is the government agency that has responsibility to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan. It failed in that responsibility and must be held accountable for that failure.”

In January, the EPA national administrator issued an emergency order concerning Flint water. The order concluded that lack of corrosion control clearly caused lead to leach into drinking water supplies. The EPA order said: “The City, MDEQ, and the State have failed to take adequate measures to protect public health… The EPA finds that there is an imminent and substantial endangerment to the people drinking water from the public water system of the City of Flint and that the actions taken by the State and/or the City are inadequate to protect public health.”

MDEQ Director Dan Wyant and Director of Communications Brad Wurfel resigned in December 2015 over the Flint scandal. Two key MDEQ drinking water regulators, Liane Shekter Smith and Stephen Busch, have been suspended pending further investigation. The judgments, decisions and statements of these four MDEQ officials are on display throughout the Truth Squad timeline.

Without the crucial and vigilant research of an independent drinking water expert, Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, the early, solitary drumbeat of concern from Del Toral of the EPA, and the courageous and, ultimately, spot-on medical evidence produced by a local Flint pediatrician and her colleagues, high lead levels in the Flint water system would have continued to escape public view.
In Truth Squad’s view, based on the presently available public record, MDEQ deserves every ounce of scrutiny, scorn and public mistrust now heaped upon it.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In its January 2016 emergency order, the EPA stated: “During May and June, 2015, EPA Region 5 staff at all levels expressed concern to MDEQ and the City about increasing concentrations of lead in Flint drinking water and conveyed its concern about lack of corrosion control…” (Emphasis added by Truth Squad.)

If by “at all levels” the EPA means a single, determined regulator in its bureaucracy, even as his superiors did not seriously act on and in some ways undercut his warnings, than this statement is accurate. A close reading of the Bridge timeline exposes EPA’s January statement as revisionist history that should not be allowed to stand.

For months, only one EPA water regulator, Miguel Del Toral, appears to have raised serious concerns about the lack of corrosion control and the lead threat in Flint drinking water. Currently available public documents referenced in the Truth Squad timeline indicate that other EPA officials did not fully support or act on Del Toral’s concerns with any sense of urgency.

Indeed, in a July 2015 email to Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman called Del Toral’s grave concerns merely a “draft” memo and even apologized “for the way in which this matter was handled” after Del Toral’s concerns became public. Email records of one DEQ official claim that EPA “apologized profusely” to MDEQ after Del Toral’s “unvetted draft” became public. EPA did not officially release Del Toral’s in-depth memo of concern about Flint to MDEQ until November 2015. That was more than four months after Del Toral drafted the memo and eight months after he first sounded the alarm to state regulators.

Also, in July 2015, another EPA water official, Jennifer Crooks, summarized ongoing MDEQ-EPA discussions about Flint, again without a clear sense of urgency. Crooks wrote: “Since Flint has lead service lines, we understand some citizen-requested lead sampling is exceeding the [federal] Action Level, and the source of drinking water will be changing again in 2016, so to start a Corrosion Control Study now doesn’t make sense.”

Moreover, in seeking to explain why the federal watchdog environmental agency didn’t sound the public alarm earlier to Flint residents, the EPA meekly offered that this was the role of the state agency. While perhaps technically true, EPA has the authority, the clout, and frankly the moral obligation to set aside such protocols in the service of urgently addressing an emerging health crisis when states are reluctant to do so – indeed, that’s exactly what EPA did in its January 2016 emergency order regarding Flint.

To its credit, EPA has swung into serious action in Flint in recent weeks in numerous ways. But that action was slow in coming. And for the agency to claim otherwise is disingenuous, based on the currently available public record, as demonstrated by the fact that EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman resigned over the Flint crisis in January 2016.

The currently available public record suggests EPA bears considerable responsibility for not acting quickly or forcefully on the grave concerns of Miguel Del Toral, its own expert on the ground in Flint.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS)

Just as the MDEQ is responsible for protecting drinking water supplies, MDHHS is responsible for monitoring elevated blood lead levels in children statewide – and taking action when they see a problem.

And just like MDEQ, the MDHHS fell down on the job and failed the residents and children of Flint.
A stark increase in elevated blood lead levels attributable to the Flint River water switch was discovered entirely by Hurley Medical Center research in late summer 2015 – research led by Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.

In contrast to Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s heroic discovery, MDHHS whiffed, and then disputed the Flint doctor’s conclusions.

Two months before Dr. Hanna-Attisha released her results and broke the Flint scandal wide open, MDHHS experts looked for an elevated blood lead trend in Flint in response to concerns from Gov. Snyder’s chief of staff. The MDHHS experts identified a spike in Flint blood lead levels shortly after the Flint River switch, but downplayed that spike and concluded it wasn’t attributable to the drinking water in Flint.

On the same day in late September that Dr. Hanna-Attisha released her results, Wesley Priem, manager of the MDHHS Healthy Homes Section, remarked in an email to a colleague that, “…This is definitely being driven by a little science and a lot of politics.”

Days later, MDHHS Director Nick Lyons seemed to order his department to look for ways to dispute rather than verify Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s research. In email, Lyons wrote: “I would like to make a strong statement with a demonstration of proof that the lead blood levels seen are not out of the ordinary and are attributable to seasonal fluctuations.”

By October 1, as MDHHS officials finally concluded Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s conclusions and warnings were accurate, Lyons prepared for a press conference by remarking in an email to a colleague, “I’d like to express my appreciation to the Hurley doctors for bringing this issue to our attention.”

By the end 2015, the Snyder Administration would conclude: “It wasn’t until the Hurley report came out that our epidemiologists took a more in-depth look at the data by zip code, controlling for seasonal variation, and confirmed an increase outside of normal trends. As a result of this process, we have determined that the way we analyze data collected needs to be thoroughly reviewed.”

MDHHS experts’ initial miscalculations significantly helped delay the full discovery of the Flint lead emergency. If not for the independent work of Dr. Hanna-Attisha and other outside experts, Flint residents might still today be drinking dangerous water without warning from this state agency.

The Snyder Administration

The Flint debacle happened on Gov. Rick Snyder’s watch, with critical decisions that led to choosing the Flint River for the city’s drinking water made by emergency managers he appointed; decisions that were signed off on by Snyder’s state treasurer, and largely supported by local officials.

Amid some calls for him to resign, the governor has apologized to the people of Flint. He has pledged to fix the problems. Since autumn 2015, he has provided considerable aid, from money, to technical assistance, to boots on the ground in the form of National Guard troops passing out bottled water and tap filters.

Surely, for the people of Flint, this is too little, too late.

To be fair, the governor could not be expected to know early on that water and health experts at two state agencies were simply wrong in dismissing the risks posed by the city’s switch to the Flint River.

And to Snyder’s credit, in late July, Snyder Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore expressed worry to the agencies that Flint residents’ complaints of brown water and skin rashes were being “blown off” by the state. That inquiry sparked a fresh round of denials of any serious problem by both MDEQ and MDHHS.

But, time after time, the Snyder Administration appeared to follow the incorrect guidance of these state agencies for many weeks as the Flint crisis mushroomed. The Truth Squad timeline clearly illustrates this sense of prolonged denial and inaction.

Worse, in late-September 2015, after independent experts had clearly outlined serious water treatment concerns and evidence of a clear public health threat of lead in the Flint water, additional Muchmore emails displayed far more callous political calculation than sense of urgency.

After the revelations of Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards and Hurley’s Dr. Hanna-Attisha were made public, Muchmore described Flint drinking water as “less than savory” and deflected that “it’s really the city’s water system that needs to deal with it.” In these communications to the governor and other aides, Muchmore was essentially adopting the don’t-worry conclusions of both MDEQ and MDHHS, rather than considering an independent probe for a desperate city.

The question remains: Why did the governor and key aides continue to rely on woefully incorrect information from state agencies as the crisis magnified? Why didn’t they do more, sooner, at the highest levels of state government, to deal with the crisis?

We expect numerous investigations will probe any culpability of officials in the Snyder Administration, including the governor himself.

To date, Gov. Snyder has released what he characterized as two years of his own personal email records relating to Flint (a release not required under the state’s Freedom of Information laws). That’s not good enough. Snyder has not released full email records of all in his administration concerning the Flint crisis. He must. Truth Squad encourages investigators to pursue public release of every word ever written by any government official at any level concerning the Flint crisis. The people of Flint deserve it.

Public officials in Flint

Had Flint not switched away from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, the Flint crisis in all likelihood would not have happened.

In a recent analysis, Truth Squad took Gov. Snyder and his appointed emergency managers to task for implying that the decision to switch from DWSD to the Karegnondi Water Authority and, ultimately, to the Flint River was made by Flint city officials. As Truth Squad noted, Flint’s state-appointed emergency managers ran the city when every key decision was made. They signed the relevant orders and the state treasurer signed off on those decisions.

Truth Squad would note, however, that lost in that narrative is ample public record that local Flint leaders clearly desired to move away Detroit water service amid concerns about cost and local control. Flint leaders enthusiastically endorsed joining the new regional KWA scheduled to come online later in 2016. And though they did not make the decision to use the Flint River until KWA was ready, Flint leaders enthusiastically endorsed the Flint River decision – and toasted it the day of the water switch. The Truth Squad timeline clearly illustrates these local preferences and decisions.

Two months after the Flint River switch, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling declared to MLive.com that “It’s a quality, safe product… I think people are wasting their precious money buying bottled water.”

The actions of Flint officials going forward require ongoing scrutiny, especially since the EPA has declared it is worried the city “lacks the professional expertise and resources” necessary to “safely manage” the city’s drinking water supply.

Less blameworthy: state EM law, unions, and other factors

A host of factors, decades in the making, helped create the economic conditions that preceded the Flint water disaster. Flint’s general economic decline has clearly ravaged the city and its people, leaving Flint with a decrepit infrastructure and miniscule financial resources to recover or maintain what little the city has left.

Some claim hard-line trade unionism drove businesses out of Flint decades ago, while others rail against major manufacturers like General Motors leaving Flint high and dry by pulling out, taking thousands of good-paying jobs with them. Some blame white flight, and others blame mismanagement of city finances. Still others lambast state policies and budget priorities that have resulted in steep declines in revenue sharing with municipalities like Flint.

In all of this worthy public debate, at least two narratives have been cited recently as possible contributors to Flint’s water crisis.

The Michigan emergency manager law

The suggestion that the state’s emergency financial management law itself led directly to lead poisoning in Flint children, is not supported by the public record. This narrative is amplified by national political and media pundits. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is a leading proponent of this theory. And it is further amplified by others, like Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who, in connecting the emergency manager law to the Flint crisis, wrote in late January: “Snyder undertook an arrogant public-policy experiment, underpinned by the ideological assumption that the ‘experience set’ of corporate-style managers was superior to the checks and balances of democracy. This is why Flint happened.”

For several years, the emergency manager law has resulted in nearly constant, worthy, and unfinished debate about local control, threats to local self-determination, municipal finance policy generally, and what to do about municipalities and school systems facing unsustainable levels of debt and deficits.

At least two Flint emergency managers are among those now facing questions about the decision to switch to the Flint River. If those emergency managers are found culpable in some way, they should face repercussions. But there is no known evidence that the EM law itself produced the Flint water crisis.

Beyond that, it remains unclear whether Flint city officials, had they been in charge at the time, would have altered the decisions which launched the Flint drinking water crisis.

The record shows these officials broadly supported dropping Detroit as a drinking water source. A state-appointed emergency manager made the decision to use the Flint River as a water source, but far from protesting that choice, Flint officials celebrated the switch by raising a toast with Flint River water the day of the switch. We’ll never know what decision Flint officials would have made entirely on their own. But they very easily could have followed the tragically misguided regulatory orders of the MDEQ and fallen into a lead crisis if a state-appointed emergency manager had not been running the city.

On the other hand, the record also reflects that many of those same city officials, had they been in control last spring, would have acted sooner to stop the crisis. They tried. City Council voted 7-1 in March to return to Detroit water service. The Snyder-appointed emergency manager at that moment called the vote “incomprehensible,” declined to follow the vote, and kept the city drinking Flint River water.

Unions

At the opposite end of the political spectrum, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council – which supports “limited government, free markets and federalism”- issued a tweet in late January 2016 putting all the blame for the Flint crisis on Flint itself. ALEC said: “Gov’t failure, brought on by public employee pensions, poisoned Flint water. Stop blaming everyone else.”

That is one of the single most blatantly wrong and incredibly insensitive examples of naked political opportunism in the entire Flint saga. There is no support for it in the public record examined by Truth Squad.

54 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Michelle M.

    What about the professionals running the Flint water system who would be the first-line employees responsible for water treatment? Please address their roles, who they are, and what decisions were in their control.

    1. Lori

      My thoughts exactly! There is lots of blame to go around but somewhere the Flint water plant officials need to take their share.

    2. Bruce Smith

      I have wondered the same thing. It’s common knowledge that the Flint River was used previously. Did they have corrosion treatment previously. What about back in the 50s and 69s when I was drinking the water. In other words, had it ever been the case that corrosion treatment had been used. And…if the need was recognized previously, the omission by the operators now is doubly troubling.

    3. michael j guss

      This rag of a website is just on a witch hunt—there are three questions, 1. Did they know they needed corrosion control, 2. Did they purposely not use corrosion control–who made the call, 3. Testing issues, who knew what when about lead levels.
      The Flint River water is not corrosive, residual products of chlorination are corrosive. The facts don’t matter to idiots

  2. Gratiot1

    Michigan and Federal officials are currently keeping their heads buried in the sand regarding the degradation of our surface waters caused by the runoff from Concentrated Animal Factory Operations (CAFO’s).

  3. GHReader

    July 10, 2010: Genesee County drain commissioner’s new water quality report focuses on benefits of building new water pipeline:
    http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2010/07/genesee_county_drain_commissio_10.html

    Did this originate as a perceived economic stimulus / jobs program for Flint?

  4. Bernadette

    Thank you Bridge Magazine for this clear and comprehensive summary of the “story of the Flint water crisis”.

    I have been writing letters to the Governor’s office since last summer about this issue. As a healthcare professional I saw the risk to these children. Yes, Michigan will end up in the text books for many to learn how devastating decisions can be when due process is not used.

    The Emergency Manager law voted down by people of Michigan, only to be “slipped through” by an arrogant and vicious legislature and is going to be the downfall of them all. A “one party” government is never good for democracy and this is more evidence to support it. Right now we have a “patrirachal” (“I know what’s best for you”) governor and legislature. This legislature has proved this time and again by the many “corrupt bills” they passed in 2015. They were so focused on getting their own agenda’s passed they totally missed this brewing disaster.

    Yes, there is a lot of blame to go around, and I am very disappointed the Governor has resorted to this blame game. Each and everyone of the sitting legislators and governor and his cabinet will have this and the Detroit school debacle as their legacy.

    1. Steve Smewing

      It seems you didn’t even read the comprehensive article that you thanked the author for writing.

      In it there is no supporting information pointing to the EM law as the problem and further whatever may be found will be negligible.

      Just what in the real world would have worked better than the demonstrated incompetence of the Flint elected officials over the EM law?

      1. Patty

        Having a Qualified MDEQ Director, instead of a man with a Food Service degree in charge (thanks to Snyder). Or perhaps Snyder and the EM taking the advice of the EPA and NOT using the Flint River.

      2. Kevin Scott

        Bull, this whole debacle lies in the Governors lap. His people, his decision, like it or not. His career is over and these flunkies will go on to damage others in some other capacity.
        See Muchmoores move. A souless wonder now trolling Lansing with a new title.

      3. Todd

        Just because the author did not include information supporting the EM law as a cause for blame, it does not mean that none exists. The EM law insulated the Flint public’s reaction from reaching responsible officials. And, yes, elected officials can be lied to as easily as appointed EM’s. A council responding to voters, is a better system for action, than a top-down, corporate style of government. Certainly in this case.

  5. Anna

    I agree with Michelle M. The first and most egregious failures were those of the Flint City Water Treatment plant personnel. They flatly failed to do their jobs, which was to treat the Flint River water appropriately and in compliance with applicable regulations. They used lime to reduce the pH, which increased the corrosiveness of the water, rather than the recommended phosphate additives which would have reduced both acidity AND corrosion. They falsified or altered water quality testing records, and mis-stated the extent of the testing they did do. Instead of following standard operating procedures for older (pre 1970’s) water systems published and recommended by both the DEQ and the EPA, Flint’s Water Treatment Plant demanded that the DEQ give them a “legally-enforceable mandate” to treat the water for corrosion.They actively mislead the public, and both Flint’s Mayor and City Council and Flint’s EM about water safety and the significance of the large amount of iron in people’s tap water, which was clear evidence of corrosion occurring in the water distribution system.
    I can’t imagine that these people were actually qualified for the positions they held. That they were hired and retained, even in the face of 2 years’ worth of public complaints about water quality, is a major failure of the Flint municipal hiring and employee evaluation system.

    1. Bill

      Yes, Flint could have proposed phosphate treatment to DEQ as suggested in one of the early consultant reports, but did not.

      Would you please provide some reference information regarding Flint utility request to DEQ for a “legally enforceable mandate”??? Who, when?

      thank you

    2. Kevin Scott

      EPA communicated with MDEQ regarding corrosion control. Flint never had the equipment to treat water. MDEQ has that responsibility. Stop blame shifting and hold those really responsible for this debacle accountable.

  6. Callie

    I think there’s a typo in item #3 of your DEQ timeline:

    “…For example, in a February 2015 briefing memo to Governor Rick Snyder, MDEQ acknowledged “hiccups” in Flint drinking water quality…”

    I think that’s supposed to be February 2014.

  7. Brian

    During Gov. Snyder’s SOTs address he mentioned the Century21 Infrastructure initiative. Does anyone know anything about this? When did he sign it & what is it? Bridge…are the globalist trying to take control of the Great Lakes with this Century 21 initiative? Thanks.

  8. Rick

    Criminal negligence, pure and simple.

    But we all know the gov and his incompetent yes men will all face no accountability, no penalties.

    1. Eric

      Will you all please quit using partisanship as a basis for your argument when trying to place blame. The article, as well as others, speak to the FACT that there is plenty of blame to go around. There is no one single person or political entity responsible for this calamity of epic proportions.

      The governor himself relied on many people that have failed him. As the leader of this state, one can call his leadership (style) into question. But to lay any blame on him as if he himself purposely and intended to poison people is just flat out ridiculous.

      So let’s all just try to be about the business of doing whatever we can to assist the residents of Flint and focus on the future while holding those that we entrust accountable. If people continue to select candidates for public office based on a D or R after their name; this here thing won’t be the last act of negligence/being sleep at the wheel by elected officials.

      1. Perry

        Michigan governor has methodically reduced funding and replaced competent people with uneducated fools at every level of natural resource management. The most precious, the Great Lakes, continue to be at risk as long as Snyder is at the helm.surely the water treatment people were totally not competent for their jobs. Someone should go to prison.

  9. Matt

    If a light bulb is burned out in a hallway in the Capital Building and someone trips and falls because they couldn’t see an obstacle, who would be responsible? Listening to Brandon Dillon (and soon Hillary and Bernie!) and Co. we should have our Governor – any future governor, running around all day with a ladder and spare light bulbs along with his or her water test kit! Let’s face it the governor of any party inherits the state bureaucratic machinery and in this case the City of Flint’s and given employment laws, there’s little he can do with incompetence therein. I can only hope this blame game is rapidly reaching the point of over played and seen for what it is.

  10. Tom

    Good reporting but you did not include anything regarding the history of Flint and their desire to leave DSWD. This push began in 2006 and there are references to earlier studies. Please add some of this history to the timeline. It would be interesting to learn the exact history of the relationship. End of the day, DSWD holds much of the blame and has received almost none.

    1. Eric

      Tom; how exactly is the DWSD to be blamed? The reword reads that a decision to leave the DWSD was purely an economic one. If you were to own a business and because of your price point someone chose to go elsewhere to get their services, how could you be blamed for the customer feeling that your price was too high or not competitive within their budget restraints?

      Even Governor Snyder made a last ditch effort to those who decisions decisions to leave DWSD system, but his plea was not answered. DWSD is a business and no business entity is in the business of providing free services.

      1. Steven

        Here is why DWSD deserves blame… Straight from a memo terminating Flint’s contract… Leaving Flint dry for over 2 years after the cutoff date.

        http://media.wix.com/ugd/60e74e_c96593a346fe49b680e2ed39fa792dd5.pdf

        You can’t tell me Detroit has zero blame after that.

  11. Lynn

    What a timely and comprehensive report. Those who take the time to read its’ entirety (including the 30,000 word timeline of the debacle) will be better informed on the crisis. Looking to place blame is not the answer, but should be more than a wake-up call for our governmental agencies that we depend upon for our safety. I’m praying for the people of Flint, for the people who work in these agencies, and for our State government. Time to be accountable and assure the public that lives matter, not reputations.

    1. Eric

      Lynn; spot on commentary.

      I go back and forth with people almost daily with the message of how placing blame is counter-productive. The ONLY things that we should be focusing on should be assisting the residents of Flint and keeping our eyes wide open to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

      My defense of the governor is always met with people using the excuse that he should have known. I work for a Fortune 50 company and I can assure you the the CEO does not have a clue as to everything that is going on for which his underlings are responsible for. I also say that this is neither a black/white or Democratic/Republican matter. This is a people issue now and the humans beings that spend so much time choosing to place blame fail to understand the importance to resolve this this is all about doing the humanitarian thing. And that is to assist the people of Flint and ensure that they can have a decent quality of life going forward.

  12. Lw Roy G. Barnett

    At the end of this story, Bridge quotes the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council as saying the Flint water problem is attributable to “Government failure brought on by public employee pensions.” This irrational smearing of one’s opponents reminds me of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell saying 9/11/2001 was partially attributable to liberals, even though the attack was carried out by religious conservative hijackers. More recently, right-wing Senator Ted Cruz said the religious conservative who killed some people at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs last November could be a “transgendered leftist activist.” In every case, people and organizations are incorrectly blaming entities they don’t like for bad situations because they can’t pass up the unjustified urge to besmirch those with whom they disagree.

    1. Matt

      Local governments not funding their pension plans has been a big, probably the biggest cause, of EM’s being placed in charge for the reason that the State (taxpayers) get stuck with much or all of these unpaid balances. So ALEC isn’t really wrong on this. Cut out this state backstop position allowing locals and munis to go to true bankruptcy (including pension liabilities) and there wouldn’t be a need for EMs. How would that work for you?

  13. Rich

    Does Flint give a water quality report to it’s customers yearly? Does any one read it? It’s not too hard to figure the report out as it lists acceptable levels and the reading for a lot of different things in the water, including lead.

  14. Sue

    Well, I would like to point the finger at the Flint State Reps, and State Senators as well as Congressman Kildee and the newly appointment Mayor.

    In Sept. it was in the press that the water was tainted and no one called it an emergency. Even the new mayor who took over in Nov. could have said…stop drinking the water.

    So, it would be interesting to see how many calls each of these elected officials had into their offices. These elected officials are the first line contact to the state and federal government. Yes the MDEQ and MDHHS did not catch their negligence but Flints issues were in the papers in Sept. 2015–4 months before they told people to stop drinking the water. Where was the outrage or concern in Sept. I guess it was football season and no one wanted a State of Emergency during the holiday season.

    It is very smug of any of these elected officials to act innocent, make accusations and pretend to be concerned. It is 6 months too late to join the finger pointing –Kildee.

    1. Eric

      The political finger pointing is the saddest part of all of this. I say as a black man with no revocation; as a people, we have to STOP allowing the Democratic Party to use us as their pawns. They choose to point the finger directly at the sitting Republican governor without looking in the mirror to see that their party has controlled the city of Flint for years. It was their own Democratic governor you allowed so much foolishness to happen on her watch as she looked the other way instead of doing the right for fear of thinking that black people would not like her or would called her racist.

      Governor Snyder did right by Detroit and sti is looked upon as the devil while the residents of Detroit are better off now than they were at any point during the Kilpatrick or Bing tenures. Furthermore, who have all of these Democrats coming out of the wood work form all over the country acting as if they care while the citizens in Flint failed to see that this polo all football is only being used to raised the profile of these self-righteous Dems. To even suggest that a debate be held in Flint is the height of disingenuousness and pandering of epic proportions, but the black electorate interpret the pandering of Dems as they caring about them.

      Hillar, Brenda Lawrence, Debbie Dingell, Sheila Lee Jackson, Stabenow, Peters and all of these Johnny-come-lately Dems are truly using the Democratic base that is the Flint electorate. Say though, it is allowed to happen time and time again because the black electorate spends too much time trying to hold the other political party accountable for their ills and NEVER hold those that they elect accountable for keeping them down.

      This situation in Flint should be the ultimate wake up call for the black electorate to see that those that they choose oftentimes do not have their best interest at heart. The Democratic Party continues to fail the black electorate/community under the guise that they care more and that the GOP with their evil selves care less. Well, when you are never held accountable, leading Blaine sheep is one of the easiest things in the world to do.

  15. John Bebow

    What about the professionals running the Flint water system? Please address their roles, etc.

    Numerous documents cited in the full Truth Squad timeline provide scrutiny of the Flint Department of Public Works. Most notably, investigations have raised serious questions about allegedly poor lead testing procedures carried out by these local workers. However, other documents throughout the timeline make clear that MDEQ had the regulatory responsibility to require treatment to prevent pipe corrosion/leaching lead was raise questions about operations. In key ways, local water treatment operators answer to those state regulators. Likewise, engineering studies in Flint also did not raise serious flags before or in the months following the switch to the Flint River. Going forward, the EPA has raised concerns about whether Flint will have the local technical expertise on the ground to safely manage the drinking water system.

    Regarding a perceived typo in the timeline: a reader assertion that a MDEQ briefing to Gov. Rick Snyder about ‘hiccups’ in the Flint water system…

    The reader asserts this briefing would have been in February 2014. That is incorrect. The briefing was written in February 2015.

    Regarding the history of Flint’s desire to leave the DWSD…

    The full Truth Squad timeline published today includes numerous references to this history, including documented local preferences for leaving DWSD, joining the Karegnondi Water Authority, and also for the Flint River switch.

    Regarding the role of Flint-area state legislators and whether they were late to the game…

    Actually, the full Truth Squad timeline documents numerous instances, from early 2015 through summer and fall 2015, when Flint-area legislators were asking tough questions and seeking redress through state agencies and the governor’s office.

    Thank you for your questions. And thank you for reading.

    Sincerely,

    John Bebow
    President & CEO
    The Center for Michigan / Bridge Magazine
    jbebow@thecenterformichigan.net

  16. Stephen C Brown

    Thanks to Bridge for this trustworthy report, with references and links. I’ll double my annual contribution for this public service. My first reaction was similar to others, in that what happened to the Civil Service-Public Servant employees vs. the political patronage hacks? It’s worth investigating how political attitudes can subvert the proper role of government. I’ll want to check the CV’s of each of these players and how they got into their positions of responsibility, versus their positions of power. It’s a sign that the Civil Service aspects need to be empowered and protected from political interference-no matter what the origin.

  17. EB

    Why? Why did the MDEQ make such terrible decisions? Everyone was relying on the MDEQ for guidance about what to do and that includes the Flint mayor, city council and EMs. The MDEQ could have denied the request to switch to river water. They could have made the decision a first semester high school chemistry student could have figured out and ordered corrosion control. The MDEQ is the water authority in Michigan. How in the world could they screw up so badly?

  18. JOHN

    MDEQ oversees community water supplies to insure local officials are meeting all legal requirements of a safe water supply. Today these safety requirements are set by the federal government but often administered, as in Michigan, by the states. The state can only force compliance on a city if/when it fails to meet a legal requirement. If a single EPA scientist finds a serious health issue at a single home and suspects, based on his knowledge, that a wider problem likely exists this has no bearing on whether or not the water supply meets requirements. ( Is this what happened? I have not yet located Mr Del Toral’s memo on the web). Good judgement would suggest he not share his opinions outside his organization ( as for example with the ACLU) before a clear lack of compliance with an existing law is demonstrated, he has reported same to his superiors, and they have been unresponsive.

    The Bridge reviewer refers to comments made by MDEQ’s Brad Wurfel (example: see timeline September 2,2015) in response to Marc Edwards report as “more deflection and denials”. In fact Mr. Wurfel seems only to be pointing out that the official legal monitoring data available to him at that time does not match Mr. Edwards data and does not indicate Flint is in a non-compliance. Also Mr. Wurfel refers to blood monitoring data from MDHHS which at the time MDHHS also interpreted to be within normal seasonal values. While it should be noted here that Mr. Edwards is not a PhD lacking in knowledge but is one of the world’s true experts in the complex area of water corrosion, Mr Wurfel as well as the EPA must follow the law.

    While there is a least one other crucial issue relating to interpretation of the initial federal law which seems to have been unclear, at least to MDEQ, the real smoking gun in all this is Flint’s lead sampling program. It was FLINT”S responsibility to design and implement a montitoring program consistent with Federal and State law. The discussion above strongly suggests that the Flint Water Department failed to do this. This monitoring program should i believe have been reviewed and approved by MDEQ. If done properly it is this sampling program which would define Flint’s compliance or lack thereof with present law. Michigan DEQ cannot be expected to go beyond current law anymore than a judge can make a decision on what he believes will be the law in the future.

    To the writer above seeking some historical perspective, back in the 1960’s there was no federal law regarding water supply corrosion control lead levels. Lead was not of much concern back then and certainly not in water supplies. We all were being exposed to relatively massive amounts of lead in lead paint and in gasoline. Once these sources were eliminated or at least controlled were we able to learn that even the relatively minute amounts contributed by some water supplies could be significant. A public health report i once read reported an excellent

  19. Steve Smewing

    This is a more in depth version of the reply I wrote to Mr Power’s opinion piece from last week.

    The only part that I can say is marginal in its conclusion is were the record shows Snyder asked the MDEQ directly about the developing situation and he was misled just as everyone else was. Then further into this section the author claims Snyder should have had some magical, I assume, power to know more than those that are the experts and overrule them? I guess I have to be left to assume that the writer has to point at least their pinky at Snyder.

  20. John Continued

    The public health report i mentioned (before i accidentally sent my unedited note….) found an excellent correlation between crime levels and the end of widespread poisoning of our youth by lead from gasoline and possibly paint. While crime levels fell hugely over a certain period of time coincident with tough neighborhood policing instituted in New York city, the cause of this nationwide decline was at my last reading never ascertained by the social science community.

    The article topic here is blame. Blames only proper purpose is to establish where and what changes are necessary to prevent future failures to protect public health. Flint Water clearly shares blame, and very likely MDEQ. Existing law it seems is already in the process of review and updating. This problem likely is already largely fixed by lessons already learned by MDEQ and EPA. Lets hope a minimum of citizens and regulators are personally harmed by this blame processing and all get back to doing their jobs better. Truthsquad, whoever it may be, seems a bit too involved emotionally to be assumed a perfectly accurate source.

    It may be helpful to add that my opinion is formed by decades of experience in the water industry including corrosion control implementation. Management of water systems is actually a very complex problem due to the variety of skills needed – engineering, chemistry, microbiology, maintenance, operations and management skills. The historical success and competency of the MDEQ staff in helping utilities achieve all these skills while also providing regulatory enforcement where neces

  21. James Thornton

    There should be a Broadway Play done about the fiasco. Make some money for the people in Flint and expose all the idiots.

  22. John Continued

    The public health report i mentioned (before i accidentally sent my unedited note….) found an excellent correlation between crime levels and the end of widespread poisoning of our youth by lead from gasoline and possibly paint. While crime levels fell hugely over a certain period of time coincident with tough neighborhood policing instituted in New York City, the cause of this nationwide decline was at my last reading never ascertained by the social science community.

    The article topic here is blame. Blames only proper purpose is to establish where and what changes are necessary to prevent future failures to protect public health. Flint Water clearly shares blame, and very likely MDEQ. Existing law it seems is already in the process of review and updating. This problem likely is already largely fixed by recent lessons learned by MDEQ and EPA. Lets hope a minimum of citizens and regulators are personally harmed by these lead and blame issues and all get back to doing their jobs better. Truthsquad, whoever it may be, seems a bit too involved emotionally to be assumed a perfectly accurate source.

    I should add that my opinion is formed by decades of experience in the water industry including corrosion control implementation. Management of water systems is actually a very complex problem due to the variety of skills needed – engineering, chemistry, microbiology, maintenance, operations and management skills. The historical success and competency of the MDEQ Water Supply staff in helping utilities achieve all these skills while also providing regulatory enforcement where necessary is overall a huge success story. I hope its long term success has not been impaired by ill considered budget cuts, political reorganizations, and inadequate tax levies. We can afford safe water. All agree?

    I continue to believe government is an essential part of the solution. No successful complex society exists without extensive laws and a population willing to comply. A democracy must also include knowledgeable citizens (and media) willing to go to the poles and insist our politicians address our clear and compelling needs. These clear and compelling needs certainly do not include one sided answers to such emotional issues as guns, or abortion, issues on which we clearly do not agree and may never. Our very existence as a society is, and our individual lives are, however, totally dependent on our poorly designed electrical grid which our government has done and is doing nothing about. This makes us extremely vulnerable to terrorists. The correction of its liabilities is clearly the most important “defense” initiative needed As a scientist i also know with certainty that addressing the issue of global warming as science is equally important to the entire planets ability to sustain functioning societies and life itself.

  23. John Continued

    The public health report i mentioned (before i accidentally sent my unedited note….) found an excellent correlation between crime levels and the end of widespread poisoning of our youth by lead from gasoline and possibly paint. While crime levels fell hugely over a certain period of time coincident with tough neighborhood policing instituted in New York City, the cause of this nationwide decline was at my last reading never ascertained by the social science community.

    The article topic here is blame. Blames only proper purpose is to establish where and what changes are necessary to prevent future failures to protect public health. Flint Water clearly shares blame, and very likely MDEQ. Existing law it seems is already in the process of review and updating. This problem likely is already largely fixed by recent lessons learned by MDEQ and EPA. Lets hope a minimum of citizens and regulators are personally harmed by these lead and blame issues and all get back to doing their jobs better. Truthsquad, whoever it may be, seems a bit too involved emotionally to be assumed a perfectly accurate source.

    I should add that my opinion is formed by decades of experience in the water industry including corrosion control implementation. Management of water systems is actually a very complex problem due to the variety of skills needed – engineering, chemistry, microbiology, maintenance, operations and management skills. The historical success and competency of the MDEQ Water Supply staff in helping utilities achieve all these skills while also providing regulatory enforcement where necessary is overall a huge success story. I hope its long term success has not been impaired by ill considered budget cuts, political reorganizations, and inadequate tax levies. We can afford safe water. All agree?

    I continue to believe government is an essential part of the solution. No successful complex society exists without extensive laws and a population willing to comply. A democracy must also include knowledgeable citizens (and media) willing to go to the poles and insist our politicians address our clear and compelling needs. These clear and compelling needs certainly do not include one sided answers to such emotional issues as guns, or abortion, issues on which we clearly do not agree and may never. Our very existence as a society is, and our individual lives are, however, totally dependent on our poorly designed electrical grid which our government has done and is doing nothing about. This makes us extremely vulnerable to terrorists. The correction of its liabilities is clearly the most important “defense” initiative needed As a scientist i also know with certainty that addressing the issue of global warming as science is equally important to the entire planets ability to sustain functioning societies and life itself.

    1. John S.Porter

      John is correct. The gutting of the water monitoring capacity of State regulators occurred long before the Snyder Administration. When I was in the American Waterworks Association (AWWA) in the 1980’s, Michigan was respected in the water quality business. Even so we were still putting landfills on top of groundwater recharge areas (old gravel pits). The AWWA did not encourage State and Federal grant funding for water system improvements because locals were supposed to fund their own water systems and take care of their own water supplies.

      I think the Bridge has started a good thing with this dialogue and all the research. I wish there had been at least a footnote that blames today’s media for reporting that every citizen is a victim and that nobody is responsible for his own water supply. Frankly, I would put the media first on the list of those to blame. Why can’t citizens work together as a community to provide for their own water needs? Part of the answer lies in citizen beliefs that they are the victims, and somebody else is responsible for any trouble that comes their way. Part of the answer probably lies in the awkward local government structure dictated by our State Constitution. I suspect that Flint wanted to be independent of having their water decisions made by Detroit. They had enough trouble of their own.

      The rotting (fragmentation) of our communities into core cities, DDA’s, metro townships, and a host of quasi-governmental authorities has helped accelerate our decline. The issue highlighted in Flint’s water trouble is far more complex than engineering a water system. We need to start wringing the victimhood out of our citizens. We need to rethink how government is supposed to work. A little help from the media would be nice.

  24. Tony

    This argument fails to persuade that the EM law didn’t create the Flint crisis. There isn’t any documentation that the idea to use the Flint River ever originated, was acted upon or discussed by the Flint City Council. So how could you conclude that the EM law and actions of the EM’s are “less blame worthy”? The term “less blame worthy” is a blemish on the high quality journalism Bridge has been bringing to this issue and it becomes clunky indeed when you suggest that one reason for affixing this designation is that it can’t be proven that a Flint City Council working without an EM “might” have made the decision to use Flint water. Trying to accept logic this flimsy is about as satisfying as chewing on tin foil.

  25. Jeff Alson

    I congratulate Bridge for this comprehensive and balanced article. It is a great public service, and I write this from the perspective of one who works for one of the organizations deservedly critiqued in the piece, though I do not work on water issues myself. I have two comments. One, regarding the role of the Emergency Manager, I agree that there is no way to know if the mayor and city council would have chosen to change to the Flint River or not. But, I think it is highly likely that the EM was a major factor in the 18-month delay in responding to the initial blunders. By stripping the mayor and council from any authority whatsoever, the EM removed a fundamental democratic building block that would have been much more likely to be responsive to the initial outcry from Flint residents in the spring and summer of 2014. I believe many fewer Flint children would have been exposed to sustained high lead levels had democracy not been replaced by the EM dictatorship. Two, even if you take Governor Snyder at his word that he had no idea that there was problem until October 2015, why has he still not chosen to use his emergency powers to deliver clean water to every household in Flint? It is the least that he can do for the families that he and his employees have poisoned and lied to. If Ann Arbor or Livonia kids and families had been poisoned, I am certain that water would have been delivered door-to-door within two weeks. For Flint, it has now been 4 months and counting. I am ashamed of my state and how we have treated our fellow Flint citizens.

  26. Cid22

    Without a doubt if you don’t drill down to the Flint Water Treatment Plant then you can begin to understand some of the decisions made going back up the ladder.. The plant didn’t follow federal guidelines for Clean Water nor did they do the proper water tests…Even though someone at the plant had to be licenses it is clear to me they were inept in their job and because they didn’t add the proper chemicals they created this whole mess..

    http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/11/documents_show_city_filed_fals.html

    http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/02/flint_water_within_epa_guideli.html

    http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/10/flint_official_says_data_on_lo.html

    Experts say Flint’s lead problems could have been held in check if the city had added phosphates to the water, as Detroit has done for years. The treatment doesn’t eliminate lead entirely, but it does form a film over the pipes themselves, effectively sealing in the lead and reducing the amount in the water to acceptable levels.

    But when Flint switched to river water, it didn’t add phosphates. Instead it added lime to soften the water.
    http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/10/10/missed-opportunities-flint-water-crisis/73688428/

    http://michiganradio.org/post/flint-had-no-plan-minimize-lead-corrosion-peoples-drinking-water-post-river-switch#stream/0

    Finally added

    http://www.wilx.com/home/headlines/Flint-to-Add-Phosphates-to-Water-to-Help-with–361508341.html

    http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/10/10/missed-opportunities-flint-water-crisis/73688428/

    http://michiganradio.org/post/state-admits-flint-did-not-follow-federal-rules-designed-keep-lead-out-water#stream/0

  27. Victor Du Bois

    How many homes/businesses in Flint have a ppb level of lead in the water than exceeds the CDC red flag 15 ppb mark?

  28. Tam

    The governor should be able to depend on the regulating agencies. If MDEQ says ‘all is well’, the governor should be able to move on to other things. That preassumes however that the staff have the university level classes (not seminars or short courses) in the areas they are responsible for. It would be interesting to know the educational background of the MDEQ individuals involved. Pretty good guess that their ignorance in dealing with the crisis was a total lack of relevant education. Michigan can do better in the field of water resource engineering education, there is no excuse for this State to go to an outside university for water issues of any kind.

    1. Patty

      The MDEQ was being directed by a man with a food service degree, a Snyder appointee, there you go

  29. Patty

    You seem to want to blame the MDEQ Without mentioning that the Director at the time was an Unqualified Snyder appointee, with a degree in, of all things, Food Service! MDHHS Director Nick Lyons was Also a Snyder appointee. Please drop your bias for Snyder and address those issues. You even say that the EM’s may or may not have done differently then what the Elected officials may have done. Seriously, you are being Far too easy on Snyder. Did you miss the story about GM telling the Governor about Flint water corroding their car parts, and the fact that he got them back on Detroit water? Or that he got bottled water for govt. officials, Long before he admitted to any problems with Flint water?
    If you want to be called a “truth squad” you need to better than this!

  30. Deb

    There is much blame to go around. I suggest that the cicitzens of Flint, Michigan and the US have a role to play here too. For years the public montra has been ‘run government like a business’ and reduce taxes at all costs. Government Snyder was ‘hired’ as the governor to reform the State as he ran Gateway. Well, how much did those efficiencies contribute to this crisis. The number of state employees has declined, many long term employees retired prematurely, and departments have been combined, resulting in a vacuum of historical knowledge and overwhelming the employees who remained. The State’s continual attack on local revenue resources has created much the same environment at the local level. The legislature continues to avoid making hard decisions on roads because they don’t want to raise taxes and it is just a matter of time before we see real problems there too.

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