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Original article URL: http://bridgemi.com/2016/03/flint-crisis-timeline-part-2/

A Truth Squad companion/Public sector

Flint crisis timeline: Part 2

This portion of the timeline encompasses January 2015 – June 2015.
Click here to go back to Part 1 (2004 – 2014)
Click here to go ahead to Part 3 (July 2015 – present)


January 2015

January 1, 2015: MDEQ begins second six-month Flint lead/copper monitoring period. First testing period shows a 90th percentile reading of six parts per billion of lead in Flint tap water.

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Lead is a potent toxin to human beings and can cause life-long detrimental impacts on intelligence, and developmental problems, especially in young children.) Given that the federal “action level” for lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion, MDEQ takes no action beyond beginning the second six-month monitoring period.)

January 2, 2015: “The city mails a notice to its customers saying it is in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act due to elevated presence of trihalomethanes” – a byproduct of disinfecting the water. (As reported by MLive in an October 2015 timeline.)

January 7, 2015: Email from Richard Benzie to MDEQ colleagues Mike Prysby, Liane Shekter Smith and Stephen Busch. The mail discusses Benzie’s impressions after talking about Flint issues with State Representative Sheldon Neely (D-Flint) and other legislators:

  • “(T)hey indicated that based on the number of calls they are receiving and the tenor of the callers, there appears to be a significant (I think they used the word complete) loss of public confidence in the drinking water quality in Flint. Mike indicated that we would be working with the city to try to restore that confidence… Maybe there are some lessons to be learned from how the Lansing Board of Water and Light is trying to recover from the loss of public confidence as a result of their response to the ice storm a year ago.”

January 9, 2015: The University of Michigan – Flint finds lead in water in some campus drinking fountains. (As reported by the Detroit Free Press, January 2016.)

January 2015: Snyder Administration emails show growing awareness and concern about Flint water. Dick Posthumus writes on January 22, 2015 that “we have two meetings coming up on this next week” including Snyder Director of Strategy John Walsh, top urban affairs aide Harvey Hollins, and numerous others in the administration. “Later that day we are meeting with several people from Flint, including the EM, Mayor, and Senator Ananich.”

January 12, 2015: DWSD offers the City of Flint’s emergency manager a waiver of a $4 million reconnection fee to switch back to Detroit Water. (As reported in December 2015 by the Michigan Auditor General.)

January, 12, 2015: Email from Mike Prysby to numerous MDEQ colleagues regarding the provision of “alternative” drinking water supplies to a Flint office building housing state government workers:

  • “.. given that this state building has high public traffic (Flint citizens); it was felt prudent to offer an alternative supply of drinking water to citizens entering the building.”
  • Richard Benzie at MDEQ responds the same day…. “I have several questions about this matter. Why does ‘public traffic’ deserve a higher consideration than concern for state workers? How does that reasoning appear to state employees? A visitor may take one drink of water from this site in their lifetime. State workers (like any employees) may get half of the water they consume each day at their place of employment. Which group faces the greater health risk from drinking water in state occupied premises?… How does this action by DTMB impact the answer when ODWMA district staff are asked by others in the media or from the general public about whether Flint residents should continue to consume Flint’s drinking water with elevated disinfection byproducts? No doubt it will make it more difficult from a perception standpoint for ODWMA staff.”
  • All of this is in response to a January 7 advisory from the Michigan Department of Treasury , Management and Budget indicating they are “in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near the water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink.”
  • MDEQ’s Shekter Smith sends Benzie’s email to numerous DEQ colleagues on January 12 and says: “The decision to provide bottled water when the public notice was not a “do not drink” causes us some concern.”

January 20, 2015: Environmental activist Erin Brockovich weighs in on Facebook, an indication that Flint’s water troubles are beginning to break into the national consciousness. “Now is not the time for the blame game… Detroit has failed and Flint jumped ship. So much for local control.. everyone is responsible from the top down: USEPA, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the state of Michigan, and the local officials.” (As reported by MLive.com.)

January 21, 2015: “Frustrated residents attend a meeting with scientists at City Hall, bringing with them jugs of discolored water – water they say tastes funny and smells terrible.” (As reported by the Detroit Free Press, January 2016.)

January 21, 2015: Email from Liane Shekter Smith to MDEQ colleagues Stephen Busch, Mike Prysby, Richard Benzie, Maggie Datema, Sara Howes, Brad Wurfel, and Jim Sygo (the agency’s deputy director). Key points:

  • “Our position has always been that we do not dictate which acceptable option(s) a water supply may choose. Our responsibility is to see that operations are managed properly, regulations are met, and safe water is delivered. For example, when Flint decided to leave Detroit and operate using the River, our role wasn’t to tell them our opinion; only what steps would be necessary to make the switch.”

January 23, 2015: Flint Mayor Dayne Walling spreads blame for the growing water crisis in a report published by MLive.com: “Walling said the decision to use river water last year was made by emergency manager Darnell Earley, but the mayor said he was involved in the decision for the city to join the Karegnondi Water Authority in 2013. ‘The governor and the (state) treasurer to their credit recognized it was important for the city’s elected representatives to be included in the decision about the long-term source (of water) because we would be living with it,’ he said. “But once the decision was made in April 2013, it become an operational issue … and I wasn’t directly involved… I wasn’t directly involved in the city’s (decision) to use the Flint River as a source… It’s now clear that the challenge was underestimated.” Walling blamed the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for terminating Flint’s contract to purchase Lake Huron water while the KWA pipeline is under construction. ‘I do think it bears repeating that it was DWSD that terminated the contract with the city of Flint,’ he said. ‘DWSD put the city of Flint in a difficult position when they terminated that contract we had for decades and decades … My goal had always been to have a cooperative relationship with DWSD but every opportunity that was looked at ended with a barrier.’”

JANUARY 23, 2015: Snyder Administration Special Projects Manager Ari Adler raises concerns about Flint with Communications Director Jarrod Agen: “This is a public relations crisis – because of a real or perceived problem is irrelevant – waiting to explode nationally. If Flint had been hit with a natural disaster that affected its water system, the state would be stepping in to provide bottled water or other assistance. What can we do given the current circumstances?”

January 27, 2015: Shannon Johnson, a MDHHS epidemiologist, e-mailed the Genesee County Health Department about the county’s Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. “At this point, the priorities in the public health investigation are to determine the scope of the outbreak and to define as clearly as possible the characteristics of the cases of Legionnaire’s disease …,” she wrote, according to emails obtained by the Detroit Free Press. “A current map of the municipal water system needs to be obtained and cases’ residences mapped in relation to the water system.”

January 27, 2015: Shannon Johnson, a MDHHS epidemiologist, emails the Genesee County Health Department about the county’s Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. “At this point, the priorities in the public health investigation are to determine the scope of the outbreak and to define as clearly as possible the characteristics of the cases of Legionnaire’s disease …,” she wrote, according to emails obtained by the Detroit Free Press. “A current map of the municipal water system needs to be obtained and cases’ residences mapped in relation to the water system.”

January 29, 2015: Flint emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, declines DWSD water source reconnection. (As reported in December 2015 by the Michigan Auditor General.)

January 29, 2015: In response to a Bridge Magazine story about residents’ complaints about Flint water, MDEQ Deputy Director Jim Sygo forwards the story to drinking water chief regulator Liane Shekter Smith:

  • Sygo writes that he’s never seen trihalomethane issues (one of the early water safety violations in Flint “cause such discoloration” in drinking water.
  • Shekter Smith responds… “I’m theorizing here, but most likely what they are seeing is a result of differing water chemistry. A change in water chemistry can sometimes cause more corrosive water to slough material off of pipes as opposed to depositing material or coating pipes in the distribution system. This may continue for a while until things stabilize. It would be unusual for water leaving the plant to have color like people are seeing at their taps. Generally this is a distribution system problem or a premise plumbing issues. Since it appears wide-spread, it’s most likely a distribution system problem.”

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Shekter Smith’s theories here prove to be quite accurate. As an independent drinking water quality expert, Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards later proves, corrosive Flint River water is breaking down Flint distribution lines. Shekter Smith is also right that materials are sloughing off the Flint pipes. In fact, those materials include very harmful lead. In essence, Shekter Smith’s private theories to a MDEQ colleague here are quite consistent with the alarms about pipe corrosion and lead that EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral brings to MDEQ a month later, in February. But for months more, MDEQ discounts and doesn’t react urgently to Del Toral’s warnings – warnings that the one of the state’s top drinking water safety regulators (Shekter Smith) seems to be beginning to piece together in this email as early as January 2015.)

January 30, 2015: The same week as Bridge Magazine and numerous other publications are reporting about public uprisings in Flint over discolored and smelly water, MDEQ Communications Director Brad Wurfel emails Snyder Deputy Press Secretary Dave Murray and says, “I don’t want my director (MDEQ’s Dan Wyant) to say publicly that the water in Flint is safe until we get the results of some county health department epidemiological traceback work on 42 cases of Legionnaires disease in Genesee County since last May.”


February 2015

February 2015: Key Snyder aides briefly pursue a switch from the Flint River back to Detroit drinking water. Snyder Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore writes to colleagues:

“Since we’re in charge we can hardly ignore the people of Flint,” Muchmore wrote to state Treasury and public relations officials (the governor was not copied on the original email.) “After all, if GM refuses to use the water in their plant and our own agencies are warning people not to drink it… we look pretty stupid hiding behind some financial statement.”

But answers came back from Treasury and the Flint Emergency Manager that the switch would be costly and probably require a 30 percent increase in Flint water rates, which were already sky high.

February 3, 2015: Snyder Administration announces $2 million in infrastructure funding for Flint for water system enhancement through improved waste management, leak detection and pipe assessments.

February 6, 2015: Email exchange between Liz Murphy, assistant to the Emergency Manager for the City of Flint and Mike Prysby at MDEQ:

  • Murphy asks: “Could you tell me which municipal systems in Michigan treat river water? I would like to get a contact for their labs to see if they could sample and test Flint’s water production. This would be an independent source of testing, in addition to our own. I’m also wondering if MDEQ did a source water assessment of the Flint River? Could you direct me to where I might find that report?
  • Prysby responds: “I am not aware of any source water assessment conducted for the Flint River watershed” but says he wants to confirm this information.
  • Prysby responds again later same day: He emails Murphy a copy of the 2004 “Source Water Assesment Report for the City of Flint Water Supply – Flint River Emergency Intake” report referenced above.

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Mike Prysby is described by a colleague in state email records as “our most knowledgeable staff member on the Flint and Genesee County water supply issues… He has knowledge of the history surrounding the various alternatives that have been considered and has access to the files where the various reports and studies are kept.” Yet, Prysby is initially unaware of this 2004 report when asked for it by the Flint Emergency Manager’s office. The 11-year-old report itself notes that the Flint River is a very highly sensitive drinking water source that is susceptible to contamination. The fact that Prysby doesn’t know of or remember this report in January 2015 raises questions about whether the report was even considered as state and local officials prepared for the switch to Flint River water in spring 2014.)

Early February 2015: Snyder-released emails surrounding the announcement of the $2 million in state aid to Flint discuss a bipartisan briefing in Flint at which DEQ Director Dan Wyant “will address ongoing efforts with his agency to test Flint water and explain why the city is facing some of its problems.” There is no mention of a lead problem. Flint Mayor Walling and State Senator Jim Ananich (D-Flint) are on the agenda to offer remarks and appreciation for state support. Briefing memo to governor and other administration officials makes clear that the water situation is growing more dire in Flint. Several developments are cited in the memo, including: 1) Many resident complaints about color, taste and smell of tap water since the Flint River switch; 2) Congressman Dan Kildee distributing bottled water; 3) Mayor Walling seeking state and federal assistance for $20 million in debt forgiveness to upgrade water treatment and calling for the governor to personally come to Flint (a telephone conference between the two then ensued and they pledged to work together on solutions);  4) State Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) sending a letter to the governor stating his constituents “are on the verge of civil unrest.”

February 10, 2015:  Shurooq Hasan, a Genesee County Health Department epidemiologist, writes an email to an “outside expert” about the county’s 47 Legionnaires’ disease cases that were diagnosed in 2014, according to the Detroit Free Press. The outbreak is almost quadruple the number of cases in 2013. “We have investigated a hospital as a potential source for the disease, but have expanded our investigation to include the city water supply,” Hasan says.

February 2015: MDEQ backgrounder to the Gov. Snyder on the Flint water situation:

  • “Following the formal approval of Flint into the KWA in 2012, DWSD sent Flint a letter saying their contract was thereby terminated (by early 2013). Genesee County has been using DWSD water without a contract since May 2014. But Flint took the letter to imply a water cutoff, and promptly turned to DEQ with a proposal to use Flint River (their historic backup system).”
  • “This proposed shift was pitched primarily as a money saver. But it put the city in the business of water production, where they historically had been in the business of water transmission. DEQ approved the use of river as a source, based on the treatment plant’s past performance as a standby facility and the improvements we outlined prior to a switchover.”

MDEQ explains “hiccups” ranging from the boil water advisories, to increased bacteria, to increased chlorine required to treat the water with the side effects of potentially higher trihalomethanes (a potential health threat)… “But it’s not like an imminent threat to public health.” DEQ also states, “The City of Flint has tremendous need to address its water delivery system.” Regarding the trihalomethane issue, DEQ says it’s a key thing “to remember that once the city connects to the new KWA system in 2016, this issue will fade into the rearview.”

(Truth Squad note: This is an early example of a theme which appears numerous times in written communication between state and federal regulators… There’s a repeated sense of seeking to endure the Flint River problems until the KWA water source comes online in 2016. Again, this MDEQ briefing does not mention a lead problem or concern over lead.)

February 26, 2015: “The EPA discusses a resident’s water sample testing results with DEQ (high levels of lead found in water)” A day later, DEQ responded to EPA saying that the Flint Water Treatment Plant has an optimized corrosion control program. (As reported in December 2015 by the Michigan Auditor General.)

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: This February 2015 MDEQ claim of optimized corrosion control being in place in the Flint water system is completely untrue, as additional documents will soon make clear. Corrosion control is a common water treatment strategy to prevent corrosive water from corroding water lines and causing numerous problems, most notably the leaching of lead from the pipes into public water supplies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will ultimately conclude in a January 2016 order that MDEQ should have ordered and supervised optimized corrosion control at the point at which Flint switched to Flint River water. The lack of corrosion control is now seen as a key technical cause of the Flint lead crisis. The issue is further explained by Virginia Tech professor and water expert Marc Edwards in September 2015 on his flintwaterstudy.org blog: “Effective July 1998, the federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) has required that all large public water systems maintain a program to control levels of lead in drinking water from corrosion. Moreover, the law also requires the City of Flint to have a state approved plan, with enforceable regulatory limits for ‘Water Quality Parameters’ including pH, alkalinity and/or corrosion inhibitor dose measured in the water distribution system. MDEQ never required Flint to have a corrosion control program, nor did it set water quality parameters for the new Flint River source water.”

February 26, 2015: Email from Jennifer Crooks (EPA) to Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby (MDEQ) with copies to Thomas Poy and Miguel Del Toral (EPA):

  • “… (T)he main purpose of my emails is to alert you to the high lead levels reported to a citizen yesterday by Flint Water Dept. I have been discussing the water situation with LeeAnn Walters since January, and she has been talking to Mike Glasgow at the plant about the black setiment in her water… (Glasgow did test it to find that the iron levels were greater than his test would go…. But, because the iron levels were so high, he suggested testing for lead and copper. WOW!!! Did he find LEAD! 104 parts per billion. She has two children under the age of three… Big worries here.”
  • “So, Steve, this goes back to what you and I were talking about yesterday. That the different chemistry water is leaching out contaminants from the insides of the biofilms inside the pipes. I think Lead is a good indication that other contaminants are also present in the tap water, that obviously were not present in the compliance samples taken at the plant… And since Ms. Walters’ drinking water is showing the high lead levels, her tap water would be a good place to start, I think.”
  • Crooks further suggests, “Dept. of Community Health would want to get involved and look at this from an epidemiological perspective. (Walters) and her family are also exhibiting the rashes when exposed to the water, and her daughter’s hair is falling out in clumps.”

February 26, 2015: Prysby responds to Crooks, with Shekter Smith and Brad Wurfel (MDEQ) copied, among others… “I recall Adam showing me a high lead/copper sample result (perhaps it was this one)… as part of the city’s routine lead-copper monitoring. Adam mentioned that all other samples were below the (allowable limit… and the city will not exceed the lead allowable limit. I will confirm this. The city; however, needs to take further action to help address Ms. Walters’ concern. The type of plumbing needs to be identified and sample tap location within the premise plumbing. They should offer to re-sample for PB after flushing the tap to demonstrate that flushing the tap will reduce the lead concentration. The city also needs to provide other lead reduction strategies to Mrs. Walters.”

February 26, 2015: Email from Stephen Busch (MDEQ) to Liane Shekter Smith and Richard Benzie at MDEQ, in response to Crooks’ email less than an hour earlier:

“As indicated by Mike and Adam the city is meeting 90th percentile. Not sure why region 5 [EPA] sees this one sample as such a big deal.”

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Months later, after the Flint lead water had exploded, an EPA technical report would conclude that “this one sample” as Busch described it, was a very big deal, indeed…. “As indicated by the results from the Walters’ home and previous EPA work, the presence of lead pipes over many years has likely resulted in the accumulation of lead in the scales within non-lead pipes downstream of the lead pipe.”)

February 27, 2015: MDEQ emails provide additional context to the February 26 discussions between EPA water officials in Chicago and MDEQ water officials in Lansing about lead in Flint water. Miguel Del Toral, the EPA Region 5 Ground Water and Drinking Water Regulations Manager, emerges as the first – and for several months only – state or federal regulator to sound the alarm about a potentially serious lead problem in Flint water.

Details from email from Del Toral to Mike Prysby (an engineer in the MDEQ Community Water Supply Program) and Jennifer Crooks (the Michigan program manager for the EPA Region 5 Ground Water and Drinking Water office):

  • “What I was saying is that where you find lead values that high, it is usually due to particulate lead.”
  • “Particulate lead is released sporadically from lead service lines, leaded solder and leaded brass… If systems are pre-flushing the tap the night before collection (of Lead and Copper Rule) compliance samples (MDEQ still provides these instructions to public water systems) this clears particulate lead out of the plumbing and biases the results low by eliminating the highest lead values. If systems are pre-flushing and still finding particulate lead, the amount of particulate lead in the system can be higher than what is being detected using these ‘pre-flushed’ first-draw samples. My point on that was that people are exposed to the particulate lead on a daily basis, but the particulate lead is being flushed away before collecting compliance samples, which provides false assurance to residents about the true lead levels in water.”
  • “… I was wondering what (Flint’s) optimized corrosion control treatment was. They are required to have optimized corrosion control treatment in place which is why I was asking what they were using.”

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Similarly, an email from Crooks to Prysby the day before could have caused alarm, but didn’t appear to do so. By now, it is clear that Flint residents are concerned about discolored water, possibly due to high levels of iron caused by corrosion… Quoting Del Toral, Crooks reports to Prysby, “high levels of iron usually bring high levels of lead.”) 


March 2015

March 3, 2015: Flint Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose sends a memo to the Michigan Department of Treasury stating that reconnecting to Detroit Water would cost Flint “$10 million per year and that water purchases could be as high as $1 million per month.” (As reported in the Michigan Department of Treasury Flint Water Timeline, September 2015.) A March 24 MLive.com report provides more context: “Ambrose has said the cost of water in Flint would likely rise 30 percent or more if the city returned to buying it from the city of Detroit for one year. ‘If $12 million annually were available for discretionary use, it would be far better spent reducing rates paid by Flint customers and/or modernizing the City’s system,’ Ambrose’s statement today says.”

March 3, 2015: Memo from Flint Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose to Deputy State Treasurer Wayne Workman. Key points:

  • “The current controversy surrounding the provision of water, and the path for resolution, has a potentially significant impact on the progress that is being made. I am satisfied that the water provided to Flint users today is within all MDEQ and EPA guidelines, as evidenced by the most recent water quality tests conducted by MDEQ. We have a continuing commitment to maintain water safety and to improve water quality, and have dedicated resources to assure this commitment will be made.”
  • “The oft-repeated suggestion that the City should return to DWSD, even for a short period of time, would, in my judgment, have extremely negative financial consequences to the water system, and consequently to rate payers. By the most conservative estimates, such a move would increase costs by at least $12 million annually, with that amount achieved only by elimination virtually all budgeted improvement s in the system. For a system with Unrestricted Assets of only $740,745… the only recourse within the City’s control would be to increase revenues significantly. And, in my judgment, that would come from raising rates for water by 30 percent or more. Further, changing the source of the city’s water would not necessarily change any of the aesthetics of the water, including odor and discoloration, since those appear to be directly related to the aging pipes and other infrastructure that carry water from the treatment facility to our customers…. At an average of $149 per month for water and sewer service for a residential user, the cost is extremely high in comparison to surrounding areas…. And creates a significant financial burden for many users.”

March 3, 2015: Snyder aides begin working on an idea to provide bottled water in Flint, although it will be more than half a year more before the administration publicly acknowledges a Flint water emergency. Snyder Chief of staff emails numerous other Snyder aides and state Treasury officials:

“It’s in the city’s long term interest to make the KWA work and we can make the river water safe, but we need to work with the ministers this week to help them out. It’s tough for everyday people to listen to financial issues and water mumbo jumbo when all they see is problems. You can’t expect the ministers to hold the tide on this problem… If we procrastinate much longer in doing something direct we’ll have real trouble.”

In response, Deputy State Treasurer Wayne Workman points out a significant contradiction via email:

“If this does happen, we need to figure out who should hand out the water. It should not be the City. It would undercut every point they are making.” Presumably, because Flint and MDEQ officials still contended the Flint drinking water was safe to drink.

At the same time, the Snyder Administration begins pursuing water filters for Flint residents. Over the next several months, the administration works to provide at 1,500 donated filters to Flint ministers for distribution in the city – well before the state fully acknowledges the city’s water emergency in the fall.

Months later, Snyder aide Harvey Hollins relates in email to Muchmore a similarly sticky contradiction about the filters that Workman noted about the bottled water. Ministers passed out the filters because Flint City Administrator Natasha Henderson “is the one who told me in late July that the city did not have any part in delivering the 1,500 filters that we secured because their position was that the water was safe to drink.”

March 10, 2015: Email from Jennifer Crooks (EPA) to Stephen Busch, Mike Prysby and Richard Benzie at MDEQ. Crooks says she has been “inundated” with citizen emails referred to her from the White House about Flint water quality problems.

March 10, 2015: Email from James Henry (Genesee County Health Department) to Howard Croft (Flint Department of Public Works), Mike Prysby (DEQ), Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, and numerous others:

  • “The Genesee County Health Department has made several written and verbal requests for specific information since October 2014, including a Freedom of Information Act request on January 27, 2015. The information still has not been received and the city’s lack of cooperation continues to prevent my office from performing our responsibilities. The Genesee County Health Department has the responsibility to conduct illness investigation and consider all potential sources, this is not optional. In 2014, Genesee County experienced a significant increase of confirmed Legionella illnesses relative to previous years. Legionella can be a deadly, waterborne disease that typically affects the respiratory system. The increase in illnesses closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to Flint River water. The majority of the cases reside or have an association with the city. Also, McLaren Hospital identified and mitigated Legionella in their water. This is rather glaring information and it needs to be looked into now, prior to the warmer summer months when Legionella is at its peak and we are potentially faced with a crisis. This situation has been explicitly explained to MDEQ and many of the city’s officials. I want to make sure, in writing that there are no misunderstandings regarding this significant and urgent public health issues. The Trihalomethane issues ‘pale incomparison’ to the potential public health risks of Legionella…. In the past, I have requested to meet with the water plant staff and MDEQ regarding Legionella concerns. I did not receive a response from the water plant staff and MDEQ declined. I think it is in the best interest for all stakeholders that we meet and discuss the issues.”

March 11, 2015: Email from Richard Benzie (MDEQ) to Liane Shekter Smith, Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby at MDEQ regarding the Legionnaires’ issue and the inquiry the day before from Genesee County:

“Liane,

Steve’s initial response is below.

As I see it, we need a plan of action fast.

  • Inform DEQ management, including legislative and media liaisons; suggest additional communication with DCH
  • 2) Prepare response to Genesee County email – did anyone in ODWMA or DEQ have any contact with Genesee County about Legionella and if so, when and what? Was anyone in ODWMA or DEQ requested to meet with Genesee County to discuss Legionella and if so, when, and did they ‘decline’ to meet?
  • Contact Flint to alert them of County’s concerns and determine their response to the January 27th FOIA request.
  • Arrange for a meeting with Genesee County and other parties as deemed appropriate by DEQ management – DCH, Flint, Governor’s Office, etc.  Establish a “Lead” agency but also develop a team approach to move forward and determine an appropriate, common message as well as when such information should be shared and by whom. Determine how long has Genesee County, DCH, and Flint been aware of the increased cases of Legionella and what the message should be ab out delays in public notification.
  • Determine additional steps – possible monitoring protocols, premise plumbing treatment options, public precautions if any, etc.; Consider possible CDC assistance.
  • Determine if EPA will be willing to share their draft Legionella guidance document being developed by a workgroup consisting of EPA, the States of Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Washington, Nevada, Missouri, Nebraska, and CDC. The guidance will characterize the effectiveness of treatment technologies to address Legionella and address relevant regulatory implications. The primary implication is that individual customers that install ‘secondary’ treatment systems to remove, reduce or prevent Legionella in their premise plumbing (such as hospitals are already doing) become by federal definition public water systems required to comply with all applicable requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The guidance has been delayed by internal reviews at EPA, but they are hoping to be able to have a final document in summer of 2015.”

March 11, 2015: Email from Stephen Busch to Mike Prysby and Richard Benzie (all MDEQ): “… there is no evidence or confirmation of legionella coming directly from the Water Treatment Plant or in the community water supply distribution system at this time.” And in numerous other emails numerous MDEQ officials, including Busch, say they’ve received no request to meet from Genesee County.

March 12, 2015: Email from Richard Benzie (MDEQ) to Thomas Poy and Jennifer Crooks (EPA). The mail is marked “high importance” and regards Jim Henry’s concerns from the Genesee County Health Department:

  • “Please treat this information as confidential at this point as I am not sure when and who will bring this matter forward for public knowledge. But I thought you should get a heads up that another problem could become public soon. Liane forwarded the message from Genesee County to our management this morning along with the attached document, but we have not received a response yet. She also contacted the Department of Community Health and they are following up with the County. They told Liane that they have been offering assistance to the county on this matter on several occasions and had not received a response.”
  • “Steve and Mike indicated that they were not contacted by the county on this issue as stated in the attachment, so we don’t know who they did contact or if they did. We suspect they are escalating the request for information at this time, but we also wonder why they need much of the information they requested from the city to conduct their investigation, which should have been completed by now. Both DEQ and DCH had the same reaction to their statement about the river before they complete their investigation. Steve, Liane and I will be meeting tomorrow morning to discuss further. We may be meeting with the executive office as well.”

March 12, 2015: Email from Liane Shekter Smith to numerous MDEQ colleagues on the Legionnaires’ issue:

  • “While the change in source may have created water quality conditions that could provide additional organic nutrient source to support legionella growth, there is no evidence or confirmation of legionella coming directly from the Water Treatment Plant or in the community water supply distribution system at this time.”
  • “Seems like the next step is to communicate with DCH and possibly develop a joint strategy/response. Not sure who in Exec wants to take the lead on this. Steve Busch and Mike Prysby will continue to be lead for us on this. They have been in contact with DCH recently but only to learn that little progress has been made in identifying a source or sources for the illnesses.”

March 13, 2015: The MDEQ notifies Harvey Hollins III, director of Michigan’s Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, that the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease coincided with the city’s switch from using the Detroit water system to using Flint River water, emails obtained by the liberal political organization, Progress Michigan, show.

March 13, 2015: Email from Brad Wurfel, MDEQ communications director, to Harvey Hollins, an aide to Governor Rick Snyder:

  • “In December, our staff became peripherally aware that the hospitals in Genesee were seeing an uptick in Legionnaires cases.
  • “Legionnaires is a water-borne illness. It essentially is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria… Untreated, it can be deadly… More than 40 cases reported since last April. That’s a significant uptick – more than all the cases in the last five years or more combined.”
  • “County Health Departments are supposed to perform epidemiological tracebacks on all confirmed cases of this disease, locate the source and address it. Genesee County Halth has not done this work as of November. At a January meeting with area hospitals, MDCH, DEQ and others, Nick Lyon reportedly directed the county health folks, in terms not uncertain, to get this done as a priority. As I’m sitting here today, it still is not done to my knowledge.”
  • “My counterparts at MDCH informed me today that they cannot step in unless they are invited or unless the outbreak is multi-county. They’ve not been invited until, I believe, today. That may be in part because of the email string and letter I’ve enclosed here, which was unknown to MDCH until I shared it over to them.”
  • “Essentially, Jim Henry with Genesee County Health is putting up the flare. He’s made the leap formally in his email that the uptick in cases is directly attributable to the river as a drinking water source – this is beyond irresponsible, given that it is his department that has failed to do the necessary traceback work to provide any conclusive evidence of where the outbreak is sources, and it also flies in the face of the very thing a drinking water system is designed to do.”
  • “Legionnaires is NOT among the 90 water contaminants screened in the Safe Water Drinking Act, but in the absence of action by county health, our staff are now considering taking samples from various points in the system and working with DCH’s lab to test for it, if for no other reason than to rule it out.”

March 13, 2015: Email from Stephen Busch (MDEQ) to Jim Henry (Genesee County Health Department) with copies to Mike Prysby and Lianne Shekter Smith at MDEQ:

  • “The DEQ fully recognizes the public health threat posed to individuals that contract Legionnaires’ Disease with the understanding that the disease is not contracted by ingestion of potable water and therefore not regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.”
  • “… (C)onclusions that legionella is coming from the public water system without the presentation of any substantiating evidence from your epidemiologic investigation appears premature and prejudice toward that end.”
  • “It is highly unlikely that legionella would be present in treated water coming from the City of Flint water treatment plant given the treatment plant’s use of ozone along with complete treatment and chlorine disinfect contact time to comply with the federal surface water treatment rules for potable water. Detections of total coliform or heterotrophic bacteria in the City’s public water distribution system indicate an environment where bacterial growth may be supported. However, there is no direct correlation that can be made to the presence of legionella… water temperatures in the City’s distribution system are below legionella growth range, and chlorine residual levels would also limit such growth.”
  • “Our office agrees that water main breaks, water leaks, and system repairs are possible vectors for legionella to enter the public water system. These should be investigated as part of your epidemiology.”
  • “If GCHD is seeking assistance to complete its epidemiological investigation regarding this matter, such resource requests should be directed to the Michigan Department of Community Health. Our Office agrees that a multi-agency partnership would be beneficial to move forward and develop a unified response.”
  • Shekter Smith responds same day, with copies to several others at DEQ, including Wurfel and Sygo… “FYI – in case you weren’t bcc’d on this note. Just wanted to make sure we stay on the same page… Nicely done Steve and Mike.”

March 13, 2015: MDEQ Communications Director Brad Wurfel once again clues in the governor’s top two spokespeople to the Legionnaires’ issue and urges action:

“Political flank cover out of the City of Flint today regarding the spike in Legionnaires cases. See enclosed. Also, area ministers put a shot over the bow last night… with a call for Snyder to declare state of emergency there and somehow ‘fix’ the water situation. It may be very advantageous to get Treasury, Gov’s office, DCH, DEQ, and Flint EM around a table Monday to do the following:

  1. Update on what the city is doing
  2. Update on what County Health Department is working on
  3. Discussion of what we might all do next
  4. Coordination of communication/messages.

Did not want to reach out to Dennis without your approval/support. Please advise.”

(TRUTH SQUAD NOTE: The Legionnaires’ issue doesn’t become public until the governor announces it nine months later.)

March 2015: Engineering firm Veolia makes numerous recommendations to improve the Flint River water situation, including revisions in chemical treatment. Regarding corrosion control, the firm suggests adding a polyphosphate chemical to help deal with the discolored Flint drinking water. However, the report does not discuss a lead concern. Veolia estimated total cost to implement the recommendations at approximately $4 million or less.

March, 16, 2015: Snyder Communications Director Jarrod Agen (who eventually becomes chief of staff in January 2016) receives an email about the brewing Legionnaires’ disease crisis in Flint – and questions about whether the outbreak is linked to Flint drinking water. MDEQ Communications Director Brad Wurfel copies Agen on a three-day old message Wurfel originally wrote to Snyder’s urban affairs aide Harvey Hollins and MDEQ Director Dan Wyant.

“In December, our staff became peripherally aware that hospitals in Genesee were seeing an uptick in Legionnaires cases,” Wurfel wrote.

Nine months later, in January 2016, Snyder publicly announces the Legionnaires’ outbreak and tells the public nine people have died from it. The governor also says that he hadn’t personally heard about the problem until just days before. (Agen told reporters in February 2016 that he did not open the email at the time.).

March 17, 2015: Email from Stephen Busch at MDEQ to Howard Croft at City of Flint. Key point regarding Legionnaires’ concerns:

  • “Conduct routine monitoring for legionella bacteria at the water treatment plant tap and at locations within the distribution system. Note: sample locations must take water directly off the main and not be from premise plumbing systems. Distribution locations could include storage tank inlets or pumping stations. Monitoring at the WTP plant tap would demonstrate removal of any legionella present in raw source water. A private laboratory that specializes in water sample analysis for legionella would need to be used.”

March 18, 2015: Email from Jennifer Crooks (EPA) to Busch, Prysby, Benzie (MDEQ) and Poy and Del Toral (EPA):

  • “I just received a call from LeeAnn Walters’ home in Flint. She had her water tested again – this time the lead levels came back at 397 parts per billion. I will ask her to fax me the official lab results she has. Are you aware if the City flushed her system after the last test? Any thoughts on how to respond to her? I’m running out of ideas.”

March 19, 2015: Email from James Henry (Genesee County Health Department) to Stephen Busch (MDEQ) regarding investigation into Legionnaires cases in Flint:

  • “Our goal is to successfully conduct this investigation in efforts to better protect the public.”
  • Henry is having trouble getting records from the City of Flint through the Freedom of Information Act. “The FOIA request is specific enough that we should have received a timely response from the City of Flint.”
  • “There have not been any conclusions regarding the source of the illnesses. Our team is gathering information and we suspect there may be several sources. It has been made clear that the Flint municipal water system is in compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act. It seems reasonable that your office would be involved regardless if a potential health risk from municipal water is related to consumption, inhalation or dermal exposure. Perhaps the legislation should be revisited to better address risks.”
  • As you mentioned, we had communications with your office in October 2014, regarding Legionella, but I also had three telephone conversations with Mr. Michael Prysby, from your office between January 21, 2015 and January 23, 2015. These conversations occurred around the same time that your office participated with the TTHM presentation in Flint. I ‘explicitly explained’ the details of the Legionella concerns and the possible associations with the Flint municipal water system and I specifically requested to meet with your office for further discussions. Mr. Prysby informed me that the concerns were discussed with you. I was informed there was no reason to meet because the municipal water system is in compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act. Other than the timeframes written in your email, you are correct, I did not contact your office again until the email, dated March 10, 2015.”
  • The Genesee County Health Department “has been working closely with MDCH and has consulted with the (Centers for Disease Control) on several occasions regarding the epidemiological investigation. Also, we have been working with Legionella and municipal water experts, and recently with the USEPA. Based upon these discussions we have been informed that it is likely that a small amount of Legionellla will survive the water treatment process at the plant and enter into the distribution system.”
  • “Our team is in the process of developing plans, which may include sampling locations within the distribution system and comparing environmental and clinical isolates. We recognize potential social, political and economic impacts regarding this investigation and need to be prepared for all outcomes. Hopefully, your office, the regulatory agency, will be available for assistance.”
  • “If a representative from your office is available to meet next week, please respond with some dates and times. I think it would be appropriate for the City to attend meetings and I will contact Mr. Croft, Flint DPW Director, after I receive a response from your office.”

March 23-24, 2015: The Flint City Council votes 7-1 to end Flint River service and return to Detroit water service. Flint Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose declares the vote “incomprehensible,” as reported by MLive.com:

  • ‘Flint water today is safe by all (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) standards, and the city is working daily to improve its quality,’ Ambrose’s statement says. DWSD‘users also pay some of the highest rates in the state because of the decreased numbers of users and the age of the system… It is incomprehensible to me that (seven) members of the Flint City Council would want to send more than $12 million a year to the system serving Southeast Michigan, even if Flint rate payers could afford it. (Lake Huron) water from Detroit is no safer than water from Flint.’”

March 30, 2015: DEQ notifies the Flint Water Treatment Plant of the first six-month lead copper monitoring period showing 90th percentile lead results at 6 parts per billion.

March 31, 2015: Email from Jennifer Crooks (EPA) to Mike Prysby, Stephen Busch, and Lianne Shekter Smith (all at MDEQ), with others at MDEQ and EPA copied. Key points:

  • The purpose of Crooks’ email is to summarize a major EPA conference call the previous week regarding Legionella.
  • “Check with Mike Glasgow at the Flint Water Treatment Plant to ask about their flushing strategy; what types of flushing they are conducting…”
  • “Due to findings by Genesee County Health Dept. that there has been an increase in the incidence of Legionella since April 2014, Genesee County Health Department has FOIA’d the City of Flint for operational data.”
  • Darren Lytle, Acting Chief of the Treatment Technology Evaluation Branch of the EPA in Cincinnati is brought to advise on Legionella… “Darren talked about several treatments they have done for Legionella in 2 hospitals.” But in one such case, “they shut down the treatment due to staining of toilets.”
  • “Darren said they have been doing studies for Homeland Security, collecting sediments at the bottom of storage tanks. He is finding high concentrations of Legionella in the bottom of the tanks.”
  • “Darren said anytime there is a treatment change, issues arise with the drinking water quality. Thus, what does this do to the transport of organisms like Legionella? Does this cause organisms to desorb and go into solution? The changes in water chemistry change these organisms electrostatically, and the biofilms with the distribution system pipe are disrupted and de-stabilize. Thus, different contaminants can be released. So maybe this isn’t happening in people’s homes; but it is happening in the distribution system pipes.”
  • “Darren thought that the incidence of Leigonella must be fairly extensive for the County Health Department to notice and study.”
  • The regulators on the call discuss gathering “data from past use of Detroit water (March 2014 monthly operation report) and recent monthly operation reports from use of Flint River water… Tom Poy (EPA) said that the Department of Community Health is communicating with the Genesee County Health Department regarding their findings on Legionella.”
  • Miguel Del Toral, the EPA regulator who becomes most aggressive in raising major red flags about Flint water, notes on the call that “extensive flushing is going on in Flint to address stagnant water that fosters bacteria problems…. But, stirring up the distribution system lines with flushing is stirring up the sediment in the pipes, and then causes a large chlorine demand, thus decreasing the chlorine residual which good promote the growth of bacteria, such as Legionella.”
  • EPA expert Darren Lytle is eager to help. “Darren asked, How can we help? He offered to conduct sampling and analysis for Legionella when it is needed. Tom Poy said the State is currently figuring out a communication-with-the-public plan… Tom Poy said that we are laying a foundation now with the resources for when the State goes public with the issue of Legionella. Darren said that the labs are set-up now ready for Legionella sampling and analysis.”
  • “Miguel said that we must look at the overall picture, i.e. is the system causing this increased incidence of Legionella disease? Darren said that first, we must find the source – is Legionella there? If Legionella is present, in the tanks/pipe, then disturbance of changing the water quality and flushing, could cause it to proliferate.”

April 2015

April 6, 2015: Email from Stephen Busch to colleagues Liane Shekter Smith and Richard Benzie at MDEQ: “No movement from Department of Community Health/Genesee County Health Department on Legionella to my knowledge.”

April 7, 2015: Email from Genesee County Health Department official Jim Henry to Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby at MDEQ… “If possible would you or a representative from your office please attend the conference call that is being hosted by MDCH regarding the Legionella cases in Genesee County.” Meeting was set for 2:30 p.m. that day. Busch responds… “I am out of the office on Sick Leave today. Mike Prysby will try to call in.”

April 24, 2015: Two months after telling EPA that Flint had optimized corrosion control in place, MDEQ now tells EPA that no corrosion control is in place. (As reported in a December 2015 timeline produced by the Michigan Auditor General.) The March 2015 Veolia engineering report also recommended corrosion control. The issue is discussed in MDEQ emails:

  • Email from Pat Cook, a water treatment specialist in the MDEQ Community Drinking Water Unit in Lansing to MDEQ engineer Mike Prysby: “What is Flint doing now (post Detroit)  for corrosion control treatment.”
  • Prysby’s response: “As we discussed, Flint is not practicing corrosion control treatment…”
  • From Stephen Busch, Lansing District Supervisor of MDEQ’s Community Water Supply Program,  to Prysby and Cook: “… (T)here are no additional requirements for the City of Flint based on the levels of lead and copper in the current source water and the results of the lead and copper distribution monitoring… I believe this condition has been met.”
  • Cook back to Busch: “I agree. I’ll forward this to Miguel [Del Toral at EPA]. However, don’t be surprised if you get a call from him disagreeing with our position.”
  • Prysby back to Cook: “You are correct. I received a call from Miguel regarding his concerns with the lead/copper sampling procedure from lead services and how he believes it is skewing down the lead level results from sites with lead services. I briefed Steve on the call and we can discuss in more detail next Tues.”

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: At this point, at least three MDEQ drinking water specialists are fully aware of Miguel Del Toral’s concerns about lead in Flint water, questions about the state’s pre-flushing procedure for accurately measuring lead content and the need for corrosion control. These email records show MDEQ takes no immediate action. Multiple MDEQ drinking water regulators discount Del Toral’s concerns at EPA. And MDEQ begin a months’-long, rigid, legalistic interpretation that no additional corrosion control or anti-lead strategies are required under the law in the Flint drinking water system.)

Late April 2015: EPA’s Del Toral issues a memo to MDEQ stating, in part, “I wanted to follow up on this because Flint has essentially not been using any corrosion control treatment since April 30, 2014, and they have (lead service lines). Given the very high lead levels found at one home and the pre-flushing happening in Flint, I’m worried that the whole town may have much higher lead levels than the compliance results indicated, since they are using pre-flushing ahead of their compliance sampling.” (Source: Del Toral’s memo is paraphrased as quoted above in October 2015 correspondence between MDEQ Director Dan Wyant and Detroit News reporter Jim Lynch in email records released by Gov. Rick Snyder in January 2016.)

April 27, 2015: In an email, Laurel Garrison of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expresses concerns to Genesee County health officials about the county’s Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, as well as concern about the responses to the problem, according to e-mails obtained by the Detroit Free Press. “We are very concerned about this Legionnaires’ disease outbreak,” she wrote. “It’s very large, one of the largest we know of in the past decade, and community-wide, and in our opinion and experience it needs a comprehensive investigation.” Garrison’s email indicated that city and state officials allegedly were not supplying needed information for the county’s investigation.

April 27, 2015: In an email, Laurel Garrison of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expresses concerns to Genesee County health officials about the county’s Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, as well as concern about the responses to the problem, according to e-mails obtained by the Detroit Free Press.“We are very concerned about this Legionnaires’ disease outbreak,” she writes. “It’s very large, one of the largest we know of in the past decade, and community-wide, and in our opinion and experience it needs a comprehensive investigation.” Garrison’s email indicates that city and state officials allegedly were not supplying needed information for the county’s investigation.

April 27, 2015: Email from DEQ’s Steve Busch to Pat Cook regarding Miguel Del Toral’s (at EPA) raising concerns about Flint: “If he continues to persist, we may need Liane or Director Wyant to make a call to EPA to help address his over-reaches.”

April 27, 2015: Email from Pat Cook (DEQ) to Busch/Prysby (DEQ): “Hi Steve – I agree, the constant second guessing of how we interpret and implement our rules is getting tiresome… Any ways, when you have a minute please give me a call so we can figure out how to respond to Miguel.”


May 2015

May 1, 2015: Pat Cook (DEQ) email to Miguel Del Toral (EPA), with copies to Jennifer Crooks (EPA), Thomas Poy (EPA Ground Water and Drinking Water Branch Chief), Richard Benzie (with MDEQ’s Community Drinking Water Unit) and Stephen Busch (DEQ).

  • “The rules you stated below allow large systems to be considered having optimal corrosion control if they have data from two consecutive 6 month monitoring periods that meet specific criteria. (The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance) has not made a formal decision as to whether or not the City of Flint meets the exemption criteria or will be required to do a corrosion control study since Flint has only completed one round of 6 month monitoring. The City of Flint’s second round of monitoring will be completed by June 30, 2015, and we will make a formal decision at that time.”
  • “As Flint will be switching raw water sources in just over one year from now, raw water quality will be completely different than what they currently use. Requiring a study at the current time will be of little to no value in the long term control of these chronic contaminants.”
  • “Finally, the City of Flint’s sampling protocols for lead and copper monitoring comply with all current state and federal requirements. Any required modifications will be implemented at a time when such future regulatory requirements take effect.”

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: By this point, at least four technical MDEQ drinking water staff members (Cook, Busch, Prysby, and Benzie), are in some way involved in the MDEQ’s reasoning that no further corrosion control or anti-lead action is required in Flint. This despite Miguel Del Toral’s warnings. And at least two high-level EPA drinking water officials (Poy and Crooks) are made aware of MDEQ’s reasoning. And there’s further evidence in Cook’s emails of a waiting game strategy – regulators appear to be trying to endure the Flint River water situation, regardless of the risks, until the Karegnondi Water Authority comes online in late 2016.)

May 11, 2015: Jon Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, emails Liane Shekter Smith (DEQ) for her reactions to proposed language in a report/recommendations Allan is writing…

  • “By 2020, 98 percent of population served by community water systems is provided drinking water that meets all health-based standards… By 2020, 90 percent of the non-community water systems provide drinking water that meets all health-based standards.”
  • MDEQ Water Resources Division Chief William Creal responds same day, as he, too, has been copied on Allan’s proposal: “I think you are nuts if you go with a goal less than 100 percent for (drinking water) compliance in the strategy. How many Flints to you intend to allow???”
  • Shekter Smith responds a day later, with a completely different reaction: “The balance here is between what is realistic and what is ideal. Of course, everyone wants 100 percent compliance. The reality, however, is that it’s impossible. It’s not that we ‘allow’ a Flint to occur; circumstances happen. Water mains break, systems lose pressure, bacteria gets into the system, regulations change and systems that were in compliance no longer are, etc. Do we want to put a goal in black and white that cannot be met but sounds good? Or do we want to establish a goal that challenges us but can actually be accomplished? Perhaps there’s a middle ground?” (TRUTH SQUAD QUESTION TO READERS: Do you want a ‘middle ground’ on the safety of drinking water for your family?)

May 28, 2015: New samples show improved water quality at a residence on Browning Avenue in Flint. This is the home that sparked Miguel Del Toral’s February EPA concerns to DEQ. Lead levels are improved after a city water main is replaced. But there’s damage. Mother Leanne Walters eventually develops evidence of lead poisoning in her child.


June 2015

June 2015: “A lawsuit asks a judge to order Flint to reconnect to the Detroit water system. A federal judge declines and the suit is eventually dismissed.” (As reported by MLive.com in October 2015 timeline.)

June, 4, 2015: MDHHS sends a “Final Legionellosis outbreak report” to the Genesee County Health Department and discusses the report with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report confirms 45 cases of the disease and says more than half of the patients had a “healthcare facility exposure” shortly before developing the illness. Others were exposed to Flint water at their home – others did not.

June 8, 2015: Jim Collins of the MDHHS chastises Genesee health officials for communicating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about investigating the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak without state approval, emails obtained by the Detroit Free Press show. “Relative to communications around the investigation, I believe that CDC is in agreement that their involvement really should be at the request of the state, rather than the local health department,” Collins wrote in an email.

June 24, 2015: EPA’s Del Toral sounds his loudest alarm yet in an eight-page memo to his supervisor, Thomas Poy. Key points:

  • Del Toral again notes that the Flint water system has no corrosion control… “A major concern from a public health standpoint is the absence of corrosion control treatment in the City of Flint for mitigating lead and copper levels in the drinking water. Recent drinking water sample results indicate the presence of high lead results in the drinking water, which is to be expected in a public water system that is not providing corrosion control treatment. The lack of any mitigating treatment for lead is of serious concern for residents that live in homes with lead service lines or partial lead service lines, which are common throughout the City of Flint.”
  • Furthermore, Del Toral reasons, Flint’s use of ferric chloride to treat organic matter in Flint River water is likely to accelerate corrosion of the water pipes and exacerbate the lead problem.
  • Del Toral states his position that Flint should have continued corrosion control as soon as the switch from Detroit to Flint River water was made. “In the absence of any corrosion control treatment, lead levels in drinking water can be expected to increase.”
  • Del Toral further reasons that MDEQ sampling procedures are masking the problem… “The lack of mitigating treatment is especially concerning as the high lead levels will likely not be reflected in the City of Flint’s compliance samples due to the sampling procedures used by the City of Flint for collecting compliance samples… The practice of pre-flushing before collecting compliance samples has been shown to result in the minimization of lead capture and significant underestimation of lead levels in the drinking water. Although this practice is not specifically prohibited by the LCR, it negates the intent of the rule to collect compliance samples under ‘worst case’ conditions which is necessary for statistical validity given the small number of samples collected for lead and copper under the LCR. This is a serious concern as the compliance sampling results which are reported by the City of Flint to residents could provide a false sense of security to the residents of Flint regarding lead levels in the water and may result in residents not taking necessary precautions to protect their families form lead in the drinking waters. Our concern regarding (pre-flushing)… has been raised with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The MDEQ has indicated that this practice is not prohibited by the LCR and continues to retain the pre-flushing recommendation in their lead compliance sampling guidance to public water systems in Michigan.”
  • Del Toral tells the later-well-documented story of LeeAnne Walters. EPA and City of Flint visited and conducted lead tests in her home and found lead levels as high as 397 parts per billion due to an old and distant city of Flint lead service line which was subsequently replaced and lead levels in her home subsequently decreased. But Walters’ child’s lead blood levels were confirmed as elevated. During shut off periods, the EPA found lead levels as high as 13,000 parts per billion in the Walters water due to the city’s lead service lines.
  • Del Toral notes that technical reports regarding Flint water quality to date hadn’t addressed lead issues. A report by Lockwood, Andrews and Newman dealt with high trihalomethanes in city water. And the Veolia report from March dealt mainly on trihalomethane and other operational issues (though it also discussed corrosion control). “Both reports were written prior to the recent discovery of high lead results in Flint drinking water. As such, the reports do not take into account the potential effects on lead levels in drinking water.”
  • Del Toral suggests corrosion control experts at EPA in Cincinnati get involved in Flint.
  • Del Toral proposes a full EPA review of MDEQ enforcement in Flint, in part to determine whether the “state has abused its discretion.”

June 30, 2015: EPA Region 5 Water Division Director Tinka Hyde makes MDEQ Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Chief Liane Shekter Smith aware of the June 24 Del Toral memo. But Hyde does not share the report with Smith, Hyde writes in email:

  • “Once Miguel addresses our comments, we will provide you a copy of that report. In most cases, an internal EPA memo would not be distributed outside the agency, but given his interaction with the homeowner for one of the sampling locations, Miguel has shared a copy of the draft interim report as a courtesy with this Flint resident. Based on Miguel’s initial analysis, elevated lead levels were found at this residence. In addition, it appears that the source of the lead may be from outside the home (note: plumbing in the home is largely plastic.) Please know that Region 5 management is still being briefed on the lead issues in Flint and we look forward to the opportunity to discuss the situation with you in more detail so we can better characterize what MDEQ is already doing in Flint and how public health protection can best be provided to the citizens of Flint.”
  • Shekter Smith responds  in a July 1 email: “We’ll need to discuss this after we receive Miguel’s report, but before the call later this month.”

(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: We can now add two senior water quality officials at EPA in Chicago and MDEQ in Lansing to the growing list of state and federal regulators who are aware that EPA’s Del Toral is sounding a major alarm about potential lead problems in Flint water. MDEQ’s Shekter Smith doesn’t get the benefit of the full context of Del Toral’s report, as EPA doesn’t share it with her. But these emails do not imply any sense of alarm on Shekter Smith’s part. Indeed, now-public email records show no indication that anyone at EPA or MDEQ shares Del Toral’s sense of urgency, or  plan – as of June 30 – to act with any urgency to address Del Toral’s concerns. EPA ultimately and officially shares a redacted and final copy of Del Toral’s report with MDEQ four months later, on November 4, 2015.)


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