Appointed by the governor, the Flint Water Advisory Task Force recently released a damaging report accusing state and federal agencies of prolonged inaction while falsely claiming that the water was safe. Due to multiple levels of government failure, the task force concluded that Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, inept state employees, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and state-appointed emergency managers were directly responsible for poisoning the citizens of Flint.
“The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice,” the report stated. “The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) failed in its fundamental responsibility to effectively enforce drinking water regulations. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) failed to adequately and promptly act to protect public health. Both agencies, but principally the MDEQ, stubbornly worked to discredit and dismiss others’ attempts to bring the issues of unsafe water, lead contamination, and increased cases of Legionellosis (Legionnaire’s disease) to light.”
Agreeing to temporarily switch from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River in April 2014, residents in the city of Flint immediately noticed their tap water appeared cloudy while emitting a pungent odor. After testing the water supply on August 14, 2014, the MDEQ discovered the water tested positive for fecal coliform bacteria, also known as E. coli. Although the city issued several boil advisories to kill the bacteria, the CDC has found that heating or boiling water only increases the lead concentration in the water.
After a governor-appointed emergency manager switched Flint’s water supply in order to save some money, state officials failed to use anti-corrosives to treat the water, which caused lead from the pipes to contaminate the water. Failing to intervene for nearly a year, the EPA prolonged the disaster by delaying enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).
“Neither the Governor nor the Governor’s office took steps to reverse poor decisions by MDEQ and state-appointed emergency managers until October 2015, in spite of mounting problems and suggestions to do so by senior staff members in the Governor’s office, in part because of continued reassurances from MDEQ that the water was safe,” the report continued. “The significant consequences of these failures for Flint will be long-lasting. They have deeply affected Flint’s public health, its economic future, and residents’ trust in government.”
Caught falsely stating that the water was safe back in September 2015, MDEQ communications director Brad Wurfel has resigned from his position along with MDEQ director Dan Wyant. The task force placed primary blame on MDEQ, saying its “response was often one of aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved.”
“The Flint water crisis occurred when state-appointed emergency managers replaced local representative decision-making in Flint, removing the checks and balances and public accountability that come with public decision-making,” the report stated. “Emergency managers made key decisions that contributed to the crisis, from the use of the Flint River to delays in reconnecting to DWSD once water quality problems were encountered. Given the demographics of Flint, the implications for environmental injustice cannot be ignored or dismissed.”
“Environmental injustice is not about overt acts of racism,” said Ken Sikkema, a panel member and former state senator. “It’s not about motivation. It’s not about deliberate attacks on a certain population group. It’s not about overt violations, attacks on civil rights. It’s about equal treatment.”