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Michigan Governor: Water Caused Elevated Lead Levels in 200 Children

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 governor of the northern U.S. state of Michigan says that about 200 children have been identified as having elevated lead levels in their blood from drinking the tap water in the city of Flint and that the number could grow.

"There could be many more and we're assuming that," two-term Republican Governor Rick Snyder told CNN Wednesday.

He called it a "huge mistake" that the city's water was not treated for possible lead contamination with a $100-a-day chemical fix as it began drawing water from the Flint River in 2014.

The financially troubled city of 100,000 residents, many of them poor and the majority of them black, was under state management control at the time. The city's state overseers decided to switch the Flint water supply from Lake Huron, via the Detroit public system, to save $5 million over a two-year period. After 19 months, the officials switched back to the Detroit supply in October as complaints mounted about Flint's odd, brownish water and tests confirmed its toxicity.

"There was a failure of government in terms of people not using common sense enough to prevent this from happening and identifying it soon enough... and the people that did work for me, so I am responsible," said Snyder, who once headed the Gateway computer company and later was a venture capitalist before winning the Michigan governorship.

Michigan National Guard members distribute water to a line of residents in their cars in Flint, Michigan, Jan. 21, 2016.
Michigan National Guard members distribute water to a line of residents in their cars in Flint, Michigan, Jan. 21, 2016.

Street protesters angry about the Flint situation have called for Snyder's resignation, but he has refused, saying he is determined to correct the problem.

He appointed a team of experts to determine what needs to be done to fix the corroded water supply pipes and treat people with the high lead levels in their blood. He declined to commit to a costly replacement of the city's water pipes, but held out hope for a short-term fix, chemically re-coating the insides of the pipes and then having independent testers verify that the water flowing through the pipes is safe.

Asked whether anyone should drink the Flint water at the moment, Snyder said, "No, we don't want them to."

Federal and state officials, along with charities and individual donors, have provided water filters and truckloads of bottled water to residents in recent days as the scope of the crisis become apparent.

Lead exposure is dangerous for all people, but it can have devastating effects on children, irreversibly harming their brain development, lowering their intelligence, stunting growth and leading to aggressive and anti-social behavior.