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Obama: Flint's Water Crisis 'Inexplicable and Inexcusable'

  • Ken Schwartz

Water is donated to Flint, Michigan, for residents unable to drink water from their pipes.

Water is donated to Flint, Michigan, for residents unable to drink water from their pipes.

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that it is "inexplicable and inexcusable" that residents of Flint, Michigan, were not immediately informed about lead in their drinking water.

"That shouldn't happen anywhere," Obama told CBS television.

On January 16, Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint, freeing up to $5 million in federal aid to help solve the health crisis, but he denied Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's request for a disaster declaration because the contamination was a man-made problem and therefore didn't meet the definition of a "major disaster" under federal law.

"What is inexplicable and inexcusable is once people figured out that there was a problem, and that there was lead in the water, the notion that immediately families weren't notified, things weren't shut down," Obama told CBS.

As Obama headed Wednesday to Detroit, Michigan, to celebrate the re-emergence of the U.S. auto industry, a White House spokesman said Obama was "concerned" that such a self-inflicted public health issue as the one in Flint could occur in the United States. But Obama had no plans to visit Flint, a city not far from Detroit.

President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, Jan. 20, 2016, at the United Auto Workers-General Motors Center for Human Resources in Detroit.

President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, Jan. 20, 2016, at the United Auto Workers-General Motors Center for Human Resources in Detroit.

The financially ailing city of Flint switched its normal supply of tap water from nearby Detroit’s system to the even-closer Flint River in 2014 to save money. That water caused dangerous lead in the aging pipes to leach into the city's drinking water.

Lead can cause brain damage, behavior problems and learning disabilities in children.

Flint switched back to Detroit water last October, but the pipes continue to leach lead, and Flint residents are relying on bottled water until the problem is fixed.

Apologies, funding

Snyder — who is facing protests, lawsuits and calls for his resignation over the contamination issue — said state and federal agencies failed to identify and solve the problem after it emerged in April 2014. He has apologized to the residents of Flint.

"Government failed you — federal, state and local leaders — by breaking the trust you placed in us," Snyder said during his annual State of the State address Tuesday.

Snyder called for the state to spend $28 million on fixes. The Michigan House approved the funding request Wednesday.

He promised to continue deliveries of water and filters so that everyone in the city has clean water.

Snyder said the state of Michigan already has dedicated $9 million to making sure people get bottled water, and for replacing fixtures in schools and treating children with elevated lead levels.

Representative Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Flint, said in an interview the $28 million sought by Snyder would not be enough to address Flint's long-term problems — including aiding as many as 9,000 children who may have suffered lead poisoning.

"These kids are going to need help for a long time," Kildee said. Snyder and the legislature need to "step up" and provide funding for long-term efforts beyond fixing the water system.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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