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White House Pledges to Help With Flint Toxic Water Crisis

  • VOA News

With a toxic water crisis gripping the city of Flint, protesters gather outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., before Gov. Rick Snyder's State of the State address, Jan. 19, 2016.

With a toxic water crisis gripping the city of Flint, protesters gather outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., before Gov. Rick Snyder's State of the State address, Jan. 19, 2016.

The Obama administration has named a senior official to help deal with the toxic water crisis plaguing the city of Flint, Michigan.

President Barack Obama met Tuesday with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to hear firsthand about how her city's residents were dealing with the public health crisis.

Obama said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, would be the federal official tasked with coordinating assistance to the city from the federal government.

Weaver also met with an Obama senior adviser and the president's intergovernmental affairs director. The White House said the officials assured Weaver that the federal government would be a "constructive partner'' in the city's response and recovery.

Financially strapped Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its source of tap water from Detroit's system to the more corrosive water in the nearby Flint River in April 2014 to save money.

Flint residents pick up bottled water and water filters at a fire station in Flint, Michigan, Jan. 13, 2016.

Flint residents pick up bottled water and water filters at a fire station in Flint, Michigan, Jan. 13, 2016.

The Flint River water leached lead from the city pipes more than Detroit water did, leading to elevated levels of lead in the water and in the blood of some children. Flint resumed using Detroit water, which comes from Lake Huron, in October. But some people had reported rashes, hair loss and other problems since the switch to the Flint River water, and many residents are relying on bottled water.

On Saturday, Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint, freeing up to $5 million in federal aid to help solve the health crisis, but he denied the governor'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.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, facing protests, lawsuits and calls for his resignation over the contamination issue, apologized to city residents Tuesday and called for the state to spend $28 million on diagnostic tests, health treatment for children and adolescents, replacement of faucets and fixtures in Flint schools and child care centers, and a study of the city's water pipes.

"To you, the people of Flint, I say tonight as I have before, I am sorry and I will fix it," Snyder said in his annual State of the State speech to lawmakers, adding that federal, state and local leaders had failed residents.

He said additional funds would be needed, and he announced his appeal of Obama's denial of a disaster declaration. Also, his aides pledged that by the end of the week, officials would visit every household in Flint to ensure they have water filters.

Some information for this report came from AP and Reuters.

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