The governor of the U.S. state of Michigan and the country's top environmental official took the blame Thursday for the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, that has left many children with lead poisoning in their bloodstreams.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder told a contentious congressional hearing in Washington, "This was a failure of government at all levels, local, state and federal officials. We all failed the families of Flint."
He added that "not a day or night goes by that this tragedy doesn't weigh on my mind, the questions I should have asked, the answers I should have demanded, how I could have prevented this."
Gina McCarthy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, laid the blame on Snyder's officials who in 2014 switched the city's water system to save millions of dollars, moving it from the safe supply it was receiving from the nearby city of Detroit to water from the Flint River that courses through the city. That allowed lead to leach into the Flint water supply from the city's corroded pipes, which could have been chemically treated but weren't.
Michigan officials declared the city's water safe to drink, but McCarthy acknowledged that her agency had oversight over the state's monitoring of the Flint water and "should not have been so trusting of the state."
In the midst of U.S. political campaigns, the hearing was consumed with partisan attacks.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, noted that one federal environmental official in McCarthy's agency, part of the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama, at one point suggested the national government should not "go out on a limb" to deal with the Flint crisis.
But Democratic Congressman Matt Cartwright told Snyder, a Republican, "You're doing your level-best to spread accountability. You need to resign, Governor Snyder."
Snyder, the board chairman of the Gateway computer company and a venture capitalist before he was elected as Michigan governor, for months has rebuffed calls to quit.
Flint has now switched back to the Detroit water system, which draws its supply from Lake Huron. Government agencies and charitable groups have sent thousands of bottles of water to Flint and doctors are monitoring the health of its 100,000 residents, more than half of them black and many of them impoverished.
Lead poisoning is particularly harmful to children, affecting their neurological systems and leading to permanent learning delays and behavioral problems.
The USA Today newspaper said its investigation showed that 2,000 water systems throughout the U.S., affecting six million people, have elevated lead levels above that considered safe by federal environmental standards.