Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) didn’t want to get into details of what he knew and when about the Flint water crisis on Thursday.
In a July email, a top Snyder aide worried Flint residents were “basically getting blown off by us” over their concerns about high lead levels in the city’s water. It wasn’t until October that the state water agency admitted it had made a mistake that led to the poisoning of an untold number of children.
A reporter asked Snyder what he knew and when he knew it.
“Well, again, we’re going through that whole process,” Snyder said, speaking at a press conference with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, a Democrat. Snyder and Weaver said they would be cooperating on the crisis response; Snyder said the independent task force he created in October would address the question of who knew what and when.
“They’re going to come out with a report and I look forward to the report,” Snyder said. “And as I previously said, as they’ve come out with items they put in the report, we’ve been very prompt about taking actions in response to what their findings were.”
Jim Ananich, leader of the state Senate’s Democrats, is not impressed.
“It’s that kind of evasiveness and lack of accountability that created this crisis, and the citizens of Flint have rightfully lost all faith in this administration to further handle it,” Ananich said in an emailed statement. “Until the governor is open and honest with the people of my hometown, their mistrust will continue. We won’t be able to properly address this problem until everyone involved is completely honest and transparent about how we got here.”
Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said the task force has been Snyder’s answer to this kind of question all along.
“Governor Snyder has said consistently that the independent, bipartisan task force will review all of the city, state and federal government actions and will recommend changes looking forward that can address potential challenges in Flint and other cities,” Murray said in an email. “We continue to work closely with task force members, and it is important to let it complete its work and draw its conclusions. At that point, I think it will be more appropriate to discuss those aspects.”
It’s true that Snyder has been quick to act on task force recommendations. As soon as the panel put out an interim report blaming the water crisis above all on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Snyder announced the resignation of the agency’s leader.
NBCNews first reported Wednesday that Snyder chief-of-staff Dennis Muchmore complained to someone at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services last July about Flint residents getting brushed off over water concerns.
“I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt,” Muchmore wrote. “Can you take a moment out of your impossible schedule to personally take a look at this? These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight).”
It all started with a fateful decision in 2014 to change Flint’s water source from Detroit’s system to the Flint River, which leached lead from the city’s aging pipes after the Department for Environmental Qualify failed to treat the water for its corrosiveness. Residents immediately complained about discolored water, but it wasn’t until a local pediatrician reported increasing amounts of lead in Flint children’s blood that the government acknowledged the water wasn’t safe.
In young children, even small amounts of lead can cause stunted growth and permanent brain damage.
Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech civil engineering professor who sounded the alarm about high lead levels in Flint’s water last summer, obtained the Muchmore email — and many others — through Freedom of Information Act requests. Edwards and his team have been posting the documents on their website, FlintWaterStudy.org.
Snyder declared a state of emergency for Genesee County earlier this week, and on Thursday he and Weaver pledged to work closely on resolving the crisis. Flint switched back to Detroit’s water system last fall, but it’s not clear when Flint’s water will be safe to drink again.
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