Flint Water Crisis – A Brief Chronological History - Lee Steinberg Law Firm

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Flint Water Crisis – A Brief Chronological History

The ongoing saga of Flint’s dangerous water has finally hit the national news. And with that, the governor and the rest of our state leaders have finally decided to pay meaningful attention to the crisis, despite the fact Flint residents and leaders have been screaming for help for approximately to 18 months.

Rather than go into the latest updates on the Flint water crisis, the following is a brief chronological history of what went down to get us to this point. This chronological history was provided in part by articles and stories from Mlive.com, probably the best news organization following the subject in Michigan.

In March 2013, the Flint city council voted 7-1 to stop buying Detroit water and join the Karegnondi Water Authority, a new pipeline project that delivered water from Lake Huron. The state agreed with the water switch, in part because it was excepted to save the city and state close to $20 million over the next decade. On April 16, 2013, Flint emergency manager Ed Kurtz officially signed the agreement.

After joining the KWA, Detroit notifies Flint it will stop selling the city water as of April 2014 so Flint was forced to find a new source of drinking water. Leading up to this, talks began about where Flint would get its new water. In March 2014, the Flint River was announced as the new source of Flint’s drinking water. The plan was implemented by emergency manager Kurtz.

Flint’s new drinking water plan called for the city to pump water from the Flint River into the city’s water plant, where it would be treated for distribution. The plan required millions of dollars in upgrades to the plant, since the city was previously purchasing already-treated water from Detroit. The switch was proposed to save the city $5 million in less than two years. In April 2014, Mayor Dwayne Walling officially turned off the water feed from Detroit.

This is when the problems started. Not long after the switch to Flint River water, the city of Flint issued a boil-water advisory for city residents. The reason was fecal material was discovered in the water system. These advisories continued from there, with the city adding chlorine to the water to solve the problem.

But the chlorine and other steps did not work. In January 2015, the city mailed notices to residents stating the drinking water was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act due to high levels of TTHM, or trihalomethanes. TTHM is a known carcinogen. It is unclear where the TTHM came from, but most believe the TTHM was from the very disinfectants used to clean the water in the first place.

At this time, the people at the Detroit Water Department offer to provide Detroit water to Flint again. However, this proposal is not accepted by Jerry Ambrose, the 4th emergency manager appointed by Governor Rick Snyder run the city. At the time, Mr. Ambrose cited the cost of buying water from Detroit, $1 million per month, as too high. He also said the city didn’t have a direct connection to the Detroit system any longer, which was true but easily solvable.  At that time, the city council voted 7-1 to “do all things necessary” to reconnect Flint to Detroit water.”

Testing was commenced in September 2015. The tests showed 10% of homes in the city saw an increase in lead after the switch to the Flint River feed. On October 1, 2015, Genesee County officials declared a public health emergency urging residents to not drink the city’s water until it was checked for lead or they have installed an approved water filter.

The next day, Governor Snyder finally announced the state was committing up to $1 million to purchase water filters for Flint and for testing. Notably, Snyder’s plan did not include switching back to Detroit water. Although no reason is given, it is assumed cost is the deal breaker.

In December 2015, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attish, the director of the Hurley Medical Center’s Pediatric Residency Program, released a study showing elevated lead levels in the blood of Flint children had been confirmed. In one area within Flint, blood lead levels had more than tripled. There was no change in lead levels for children in the study who were not using Flint water.

On January 5, 2016, it is confirmed that federal prosecutors will investigate the Flint water crisis and is working with the EPA.

Did the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Hide The Truth?

One such question is how the state computed the lead levels coming out of the Flint water supply last summer and why the state failed to take corrective action then. Allegations are now coming out that the state knew about the high lead levels all along. Research by the ACLU and Michigan Radio has found that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) changed water test results in 2015 to mask the severity of the lead amounts in the Flint water supply.

According to the research, Flint city officials broke federal laws by failing to collect water samples from homes that were at the highest risk of lead contamination within the water supply. Further, no follow-up tests were administered on homes showing high lead leads, as required under federal law.

Even worse, the DEQ intentionally may have rejected samples from homes that would have pushed test results above a level at which the city was be required to alert residents about abnormally high lead contamination.

According to Michigan Radio, one of the best ways for a city to discover if lead in the water supply is a problem is through federally mandated tests completed under something called the “lead and copper rule.” Under the rule, a city is supposed to identify the homes most at risk for lead exposure, and test the water coming out of those homes.

Since the city of Flint has around 100,000 people, the requirement is to take at least 100 samples from those homes and calculate the 90th percentile of those samples. If the sampling shows that the 90th percentile calculation is above 15 parts per billion, the city is mandated under law to take action to solve the problem. This includes telling city residents about the problem.

But the DEQ did not want to admit there is a problem. Marc Edwards, a Professor of Engineering from Virginia Tech University retained by Flint to study the problem, says the state altered the testing to stay below the 15 parts per billion threshold.

According to Mr. Edwards, Flint only collected 71 samples instead of 100. Although those samples were not “worse-case scenario” samples, even with these samples the city was above the threshold. When the city submitted its findings, the state instructed the city to drop two samples for allegedly violating testing guidelines. When these two samples were dropped, the remaining 69 samples had a 90th percentile lead result that was below the 15 parts per billions threshold. As one can imagine, the two samples that were dropped were samples that well above the federal action level.

This type of concerted effort to hide the truth from the public is criminal. The U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan says it is investigating the matter for criminal wrongdoing.

Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan, said last week “(The U.S. Attorney’s office) is working closely with the EPA” on the investigation “to address the concerns of Flint residents.” Although I’m not holding my breath about any criminal prosecutions, let’s hope a proper and thorough investigation into the DEQ and Governor Snyder office’s role in this tragedy is completed. The public deserves to know the truth.

I’ll provide more updates in later blogs. What is going on is horrible and unacceptable. This is not a third world country, yet our state government has treated its citizens like people not worthy of their time or effort.