It is no surprise that the federal government is a participant in the Flint, Michigan, water debacle. After the close support the administration of President Barack Obama provided the state’s government throughout the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings, the allegiance of the feds to the monied interests of Michigan at the expense of its residents is clear.
In a January 12 Detroit News report, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman—the top agency official in the Midwest—admitted that she knew as early as last April that Flint’s water supply lacked corrosion controls. This is significant because, when the city changed its water source from the Detroit water supply in April of 2014, it began to draw its water from the notoriously polluted to the Flint River. The change was made as a cost-saving measure seven months after Flint came under the control of state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Earley. Earley’s team estimated the switch to the Flint River would save the city $5 million over two years, money that would ultimately flow to the city’s Wall Street creditors.
For decades, the Flint River received the industrial waste of General Motors. In fact, many Flint residents doubted the truth of reports that the city would begin drawing its water from the river. Despite their disbelief, soon brown water began flowing from their taps. Even when filtered for contaminants through standard water treatment facilities, the river water retained its corrosivity. This caused corrosion of the city’s water pipes and the leaching of iron and lead into the water supply. It was iron that made the water brown, but the real danger came from the lead.
Half of the city’s residents receive their water through lead pipes, and it was not long before concerned parents were noticing hair loss and rashes in their children. It was Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who began to suspect lead poisoning in her young patients. Dr. Hanna-Attisha conducted a study in which she found a spike in blood lead levels in many of her patients dating back to the switch of Flint’s water source. She took her findings to the state last September and was met with denials and reassurances by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Lead poisoning is irreversible and has serious consequences for children, including a decrease in cognitive ability.
Hanna-Attisha’s was not the first study of Flint’s water, however. From the beginning, Flint’s residents had been complaining about the water and rejecting the city’s and state’s claims that the water was safe to drink. In February of 2015, EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral tested the water in one home and found an alarmingly high level of lead—over 100 parts per billion (ppb). The EPA “action level” is 15 ppb. The next day, Del Toral contacted the DEQ to inquire whether Flint was using corrosion control measures. DEQ official Stephen Busch lied, telling Del Toral that the city had an “optimal” corrosion control program. Three weeks later, when Del Toral repeated his inquiry in an email, he was told by the DEQ that in fact Flint had no corrosion control.
Del Toral then issued an internal EPA Region 5 memo. It is at this point, at the latest, that culpability lies with Hedman and the EPA for participating in the DEQ’s cover-up of the lead problem in Flint’s water. Hedman’s defense so far is that it was not the EPA’s role to notify anyone of Del Toral’s findings, only to provide scientific resources to the the state. She also claims to have initiated a legal study to determine the EPA’s responsibility to report its findings. Even taken at face value, Hedman’s claims suggest federal collusion with the state DEQ in covering up government knowledge of the danger to citizens and an attempt at legal evasion of liability for the EPA’s conduct.
Sources: CNN, ‘How tap water became toxic in Flint, Michigan’
The Detroit News, ‘EPA stayed silent on Flint’s tainted water’
World Socialist Web Site, ‘New revelations reveal federal cover-up in Flint, Michigan water crisis’
Photo credit: paradigmchange.me
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