Michigan watchdog finds state officials knew of Flint water problem

Update – 4/21, 3:11 p.m. EST: Michigan’s Attorney General announced felony charges against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) employees and a Flint city official on Wednesday, all of whom attempted to cover-up evidence of the lead water outbreak.

Mike Glasgow, a former water quality control supervisor for the city is charged with tampering with evidence and gross negligence, and faces up to four years in prison.

Stephen Busch, a water engineer for DEQ knew of the corrosive water problem in Flint and is accused of attempting to hide information from city residents and other country, state and federal officials through manipulating sampling reports.

Mike Prysby, a supervisor for the Office of Drinking Water is charged with the same crimes as Busch — two felony counts of tampering with evidence and two misdemeanor counts of violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Both Busch and Prysby face a maximum prison sentence of five years.

 

A new report released Wednesday by a “progressive” government watchdog group accuses top Michigan officials of gross negligence in dealing with a breakout of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint, Mich., area prior to the discovery that the Flint River was contaminated with lead.

The watchdog, Progress Michigan, published a series of email exchanges dated in March 2015 between Gov. Rick Snyder’s top aide, Harvey Hollins, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) head Dan Wyant, and DEQ communications director Brad Wurfel, which discuss the connection made by a DEQ county official in Flint between an increased number of Legionnaires’ cases and the source of the city’s drinking water.

Legionnaire’s disease is a type of pneumonia which is spread through the inhalation of mist contaminated with the bacteria. There are currently 10 known cases of death attributed to the disease possibly originating from the now infamous Flint River.

Gov. Snyder said he wasn’t informed about the severity of the problem until January, but some are skeptical of that assertion.

“Are we to believe that a top staffer with years of experience would not inform Governor Snyder of a possibly deadly situation?” Progress Michigan executive director Lonnie Scott asked rhetorically in the press release.

Upon hearing the Genesee County official’s hypothesis that the Flint River may be to blame, Wurfel wrote that it was “beyond irresponsible [to make such a claim] . . . it also flies in the face of the very thing a drinking water system is designed to do.”

Both the head of Michigan’s DEQ and its director of communications resigned in August.

On Thursday, the Michigan Democratic party called for Gov. Snyder’s resignation.

“There is a limit to how many times you can play dumb when it comes to events and actions that take place on your watch,” said the state’s Democratic chairman in a statement.

Officially, the Michigan state health department has said it cannot make a final determination as to the exact source of Legionnaire’s bacteria in Genesee County, until more evidence from patients is tested.

 

[Reuters] [The Guardian] [CNN] [Wall Street Journal] [Photo courtesy Mike Ismair/Americajr.com]