The Environmental Protection Agency official in charge of America’s Midwest region has resigned over her handling of lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, the agency said in a statement Thursday.
EPA Region 5 Administrator Dr. Susan Hedman offered her resignation for February 1, the agency said, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has accepted it. Hedman was facing criticism for failing to release a June report showing high levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water. The report, spearheaded by EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral, showed that the city’s drinking water wasn’t being treated for lead, and that state tests were not detecting the problems.
To make matters worse, Flint officials had asked Hedman for more information about the health of their drinking water. But Hedman said the report she had was incomplete.
“The preliminary draft report should not have been released outside the agency,” Hedman said at the time. “When the report has been revised and fully vetted by EPA management, the findings and recommendations will be shared with the City and MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) — and MDEQ will be responsible for following up with the City.”
On Thursday, McCarthy said that Hedman would resign “given Susan’s strong interest in ensuring that EPA Region 5’s focus remains solely on the restoration of Flint’s drinking water.” Earlier this month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) declared a state of emergency over the level of lead being found in Flint’s tap water. Last week, the state National Guard was brought in to help provide residents with bottled water, among other things.
The regional EPA is not solely to blame for the severity of Flint’s water crisis.
In 2014, when Flint decided to stop using Detroit’s water system and instead get its drinking water from the Flint River, the state’s water regulator failed to make sure that the more-corrosive water wouldn’t eat away at the city’s lead pipes. Specifically, according to the Huffington Post, the state “did not require corrosion protection chemicals to be added to the Flint River’s water.”
Snyder has also admitted his share of the blame, recently comparing his failure of leadership to former president George W. Bush’s administration during Hurricane Katrina.
Still, as blame is spread, Flint residents continue to see elevated levels of lead in their water — and the health effects of that may continue far into the future. Approximately 4 percent of the city’s children have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstreams. The health impacts of lead include stunted development, reproductive problems, kidney damage, and a greater risk of developing cancer, among other things.