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More Charges for Officials Linked to Flint Water Crisis

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
Energy & Environment
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The tragic Flint water crisis saga continued last week with more criminal charges. Six current and former state employees were charged with office misconduct, conspiracy and willful neglect of duty -- effectively bringing the total number of officials charged to nine.

The story began in the summer of 2012, when Flint, Michigan, officials sought to save money and explore alternative ways to provide its poverty-riddled city with a different water source. Flint previously relied on the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for its water services. But the cost became increasingly unaffordable as the two cities — Flint and Detroit — saw their populations plummet. In 2004, Flint paid $11 million per million cubic feet of water. But nine years later, they saw the price spike to $19 million per million cubic feet.

But the search for a cheaper, alternative source wasn't worth the lead exposure that came from rusted, outdated pipes that carried highly corrosive water from the Flint River. 

In an impoverished city that has seen unemployment rates climb, homes abandoned and companies shut down, the contaminated water only makes Flint more of a nightmare.

On top of the aging pipes and high lead levels, there has been an awful amount of mismanagement from officials Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). On July 13, 2015, a spokesman Brad Wurfel told radio listeners and Flint residents that they “can relax.” A month later MDEQ ditched two samples revealing high lead levels from a report, intentionally skewing the results of the test to meet federally-mandated requirements.

Wurfel made the news again when he openly refuted a study by Virginia Tech which tested hundreds of homes and revealed “‘serious’ levels of lead in city water.” When finally faced with the question of why corrosion control protocols weren’t in place to prevent any rusting pipes, MDEQ Director Dan Wyant blamed it on a misunderstanding about which protocol to follow given the population size of Flint — the team was following standards for a city with a population under 50,000.

It took all of that, plus a December 2015 State of Emergency issued by Flint’s mayor, for Wurfel and Wyant to officially announce their resignations. A report issued by the governor-created Flint Water Advisory Task Force pinned the primary responsibility for the fiasco on MDEQ.

The Task Force concluded:

“From a regulatory standpoint, to a protection of human health and the environment standpoint, they missed the boat completely. And it is extremely troublesome to me that an agency whose primary role, once again, is to protect human health and the environment came to these decisions, and they never backed off these decisions, no matter how many red flags they saw.”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced on April 20, two years after the saga began, that three officials — two MDEQ state officials and one city employee — would face criminal charges. Now, more than three months later, Schuette announced six more charges, three of which were against former MDEQ employees.

“Each of these individuals attempted to bury or cover up, to downplay or to hide information taht contradicted their own narrative, their story … These individuals concealed the truth and they were criminally wrong to do so,” Schuette said at a news conference last week in Flint.

Schuette hinted at the press conference that the recent charges may not be the last.

“We are way far from done,” Schuette said.

The Detroit Free Press reported that the investigation is expected to run a bill of at least $4.9 million.

Photo by Senate Democrats/Flickr

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

Read more stories by Grant Whittington