U.S. and Michigan state environmental officials blamed each other Wednesday for not moving quickly enough to avert the toxic water crisis in the city of Flint that has left at least 200 children with elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream.
Kenneth Creagh, the director of the Michigan environmental agency, told a congressional investigative panel that officials in the northern state should have required Flint to take steps to control corrosion of its water pipes once the problem became apparent a year ago. He said, however, that officials in Flint, a poor, predominately black city of 100,000 residents, ignored the advice of their own consultants to take action.
Additionally, Creagh blamed U.S. environmental regulators, saying they "did not display the sense of urgency that the situation demanded."
He said, "Legitimate concerns raised by EPA's own expert staff were not elevated or provided to either the city or the state for review and action until the state's response was well under way."
EPA: State officials were incorrect
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, Joel Beauvais, said state officials "incorrectly advised the city of Flint that corrosion control treatment was not necessary, resulting in leaching of lead into the city's drinking water."
"What happened in Flint was avoidable and never should have happened," Beauvais said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it has joined other agencies in investigating the lead contamination to see if any officials should be held criminally culpable.
A nurse draws a blood sample from a student at Eisenhower Elementary School in Flint, Michigan, Jan. 26, 2016. Students at the school were being tested for lead after the metal was found in the city's drinking water.
The toxic water scandal evolved as the debt-ridden city, under state management in early 2014, switched its water supply from Lake Huron, via the large Detroit system, to water drawn from the Flint River that courses through the city, to save several million dollars. The water was not properly treated, leading to the lead contamination.
Flint subsequently switched back to the Detroit system last October, but officials say the water is still not safe to drink. Federal and state officials, along with charitable groups, have trucked in water filters and thousands of bottles of safe drinking water for Flint's residents.
Michigan's Republican governor, Rick Snyder, has accepted blame for the crisis; but, the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee did not call him to testify, over protests from minority Democrats on the panel.
Snyder is proposing $30 million in state funding to help pay the water bills of residents who have still been billed for their water usage even though officials now acknowledge it is toxic.
Lead exposure is dangerous for all people but can have devastating effects on children, irreversibly harming their brain development, lowering their intelligence, stunting growth, and leading to aggressive and anti-social behavior.