This is why we use the word “coverup” when talking about the Flint water crisis

In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a regulation to control the levels of lead and copper in American drinking water. This regulation, which is known as the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), required that, by January 1, 1997, “public water systems serving more than 50,000 people… survey their own corrosion control systems and replace their pipelines with state-approved corrosion control.” Such corrosion controls, according to the EPA, are critically important, as acidic water, if left untreated, will invariably eat away at a city’s water delivery infrastructure, which very well could contain older pipes made of lead and other toxic materials… Seems pretty straightforward, right?

[This is probably a good time to remind everyone that the Republicans want to destroy the EPA, the entity charged with ensuring, among other things, that we have safe drinking water in the United States.]

Well, as you might expect, the people of Flint, when they began to discover that their children were suffering from lead poisoning, asked state officials if such corrosion controls were put in place when it was decided by their Governor-appointed Emergency Manager that, in order to save money, they would begin sourcing their municipal water from the Flint River. [This, according to the administration, would just be a stop gap measure until such time that a new pipeline from Lake Huron could be completed.] In response, the people of Flint were told that, yes, such efforts had been taken. In fact, as recent as this past October 2nd, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Director Dan Wyant told the people of Flint the following. “Know that when the city switched from Detroit sewer and water, that the city utilized corrosion controls,” he said.

We know now, of course, that this was bullshit. No comprehensive corrosion control program had been put in place, in violation of EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, and the children of Flint were being poisoned by the water coming into their homes and schools as a result. Wyant admitted as much on December 16, when al Jazeera correspondent Lori Jane Gliha asked him, “When you said corrosion control was in place in Flint, was that true?” To his credit, he responded truthfully. “No,” he said.

Wyant, of course, would eventually loose his job at the MDEQ, as would MDEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel, who, like Wyant, had told the people of Flint not to worry about the water that they were drinking. It was Wurzel, as you might recall, who announced this past July, “Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.” Wurzel, it’s worth noting, made this claim a full year after the people of Flint first started coming forward, saying that the water was making them ill.

While it’s still unclear when the administration knew definitively that the people of Flint were being poisoned by their drinking water, we know for certain that, when Wurzel told the people of Flint to “relax,” he had already seen the leaked EPA report showing extremely high lead levels in the water. So, when Wurfel told the people of Flint to go ahead and keep drinking the water in July, and when Snyder this past December said that it was “premature to come to conclusions” on the safety of Flint’s drinking water, as “a lot of lead issues can happen because of lead-based paint in someone’s home,” we can say with some certainty that they were lying. They knew that lead was in the water, and they knew that it was the water, and not lead paint, that was cause of lead poisoning in Flint’s children. In spite of this, though, they continued to tell people that the water was safe, and that the cases of lead poisoning could be the result of other factors.

And, while we haven’t seen any of the Governor’s emails from this time period, as Michigan is one of only two states where such documents cannot be acquired by way of Freedom of Information Act, we know that a discussion was taking place in Lansing as to how to respond to growing evidence of this public health emergency. For instance, we now know that, on July 22, a full six months before the administration acknowledged that there was a problem, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore sent out an email saying that, in his opinion, they were “blowing off” the legitimate concerns of the people in Flint. “I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint,” Muchmore wrote in an email exchange. “I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving from the (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) samples… 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).” But apparently a decision was made to continue the big lie that everything was OK. [The state did finally apply corrosion controls in late July, but they still maintained that things were fine.]

And, not only does it look as though the administration lied to the people of Flint about how bad the situation was. It also appears that reports may have been falsified in order to keep the federal government from taking action. Here, with more on that, is a clip from CNN.

Michigan officials may have altered sample data to lower the city of Flint’s water lead-level reports, according to official documents and a researcher who conducted extensive tests there over the last six months.

Documents and emails show discrepancies between two reports detailing the toxicity of lead samples collected by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint between January and June 2015, Professor Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech University said.

Edwards is the lead researcher for the Flint Water Study, a research group that has conducted numerous tests on Flint’s system and was the first to publicly identify high levels of lead in the water.

The documents and emails were released by researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University through a Freedom of Information Act request and viewed by CNN.

According to Edwards, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint collected 71 lead level samples from homes when they were required to collect 100. The final report from the Department of Environmental Quality however, only accounted for 69 of those 71 samples.

Edwards said those two discarded samples were “high-lead” and would have lifted the “action level” above 15 parts per billion. The public must be alerted and additional action must be taken if lead concentrations exceed an “action level” of 15 parts per billion in drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website…

As for just how toxic the drinking water in Flint was when the people were being told to “relax,” the following graphic comes from today’s Washington Post.


[The sample in the bottom right, which shows 13,000 parts per billion, was taken from the home of Lee Anne Walters, who I interviewed last weekend on The Saturday Six Pack.]

Apparently, behind the scenes, there was a battle taking place between the Snyder administration and the EPA, which had become aware of how serious the issue in Flint was this past April. According to a new report in the Detroit News, the EPA was pushing for the Snyder administration to put corrosion control in place, and the Snyder administration was pushing back.

…The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top Midwest official said her department knew as early as April about the lack of corrosion controls in Flint’s water supply — a situation that likely put residents at risk for lead contamination — but said her hands were tied in bringing the information to the public.

Starting with inquiries made in February, the federal agency battled Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality behind the scenes for at least six months over whether Flint needed to use chemical treatments to keep lead lines and plumbing connections from leaching into drinking water. The EPA did not publicize its concern that Flint residents’ health was jeopardized by the state’s insistence that such controls were not required by law.

Instead of moving quickly to verify the concerns or take preventative measures, federal officials opted to prod the DEQ to act, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman told The Detroit News this week. Hedman said she sought a legal opinion on whether the EPA could force action, but it wasn’t completed until November.

The state didn’t agree to apply corrosion controls until late July and didn’t publicly concede until October that it erroneously applied the federal Lead and Copper Rule overseeing water quality.

An EPA water expert, Miguel Del Toral, identified potential problems with Flint’s drinking water in February, confirmed the suspicions in April and summarized the looming problem in a June internal memo. The state decided in October to change Flint’s drinking water source from the corrosive Flint River back to the Detroit water system…

Not only did the MDEQ continue to fight against the implementation, but Brad Wurzel came out publicly in September dismissing Del Toral as a “rogue employee” who shouldn’t be listened to.

Oh, and here’s the best part… How much would it have cost the state to implement corrosion control procedures in Flint? We’re being told now that the necessary chemicals would have only cost about $100 a day. As that’s the case, one wonders why they fought so hard. Was it because they felt that doing so would be an admission of guilt, leaving them open to costly law suits? Thats my guess, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see what comes of the federal investigation.

But wait, it gets better. According to a report in the Flint Journal yesterday, not only did the Snyder administration tell people to keep drinking the water when they knew that it was toxic, but they also sat on evidence for 15 months that the water from the Flint River could be linked a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. “Public health officials identified the Flint River as a potential source of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease some 15 months ago,” they reported yesterday, “but people using the water were never told until this week, documents obtained by The Flint Journal-MLive show.”

Thankfully, as we discussed earlier, all of this has finally become national news. Not only was it the top story on Reddit today, but presidential candidate Bernie Sanders just joined the chorus of those calling for Governor Snyder to step down. “There are no excuses,” said Senator Sanders on his site this evening. “The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign.”

I know there are some who see comments like this one made by Sanders as meaningless. ‘They should be focusing on the people of Flint,’ some say, ‘and not attempting to use this crisis as an opportunity to score points politically and drive Snyder from office.’ [A friend recently referred to these attacks on Snyder as “liberal bloodsport”.] While I understand the sentiment, I disagree. First, I think it’s possible to both demand accountability and focus on getting the people of Flint the resources that they need. And, second, I don’t believe our Governor started taking this seriously until people outside of Michigan started calling for his arrest. This had been going on for well over a year, with no end in sight. The people of Flint would show up to public meetings with plastic jugs full of toxic water, waiving their children’s lead tests, and nothing would change. Once Rachel Maddow and others began to suggest that this went all the way to the Governor’s office, though, and started to demand that Snyder and other members of his administration be deposed, we started to see action… So I say that we keep it up.

As for where things stand today, it was just reported that President Obama has agreed to make federal funds available, as per last week’s request by Governor Snyder, which means that “the federal government will pick up 75% of the cost of bottled water, filters, cartridges and other supplies, up to $5 million.” [One this $5 million is exhausted, Congress can then approve additional funding.] So, finally, things are beginning to move in a positive direction.

One more thing… If you’re interested in how all of this came to pass, I’d suggest reading my July 2014 interview with Flint attorney Alec Gibbs about the state takeover of Flint, why it happened, and the damage that, by that point, was already underway. It really puts all of this recent water crisis in perspective, I think.

Oh, and speaking of the Snyder-appointed Emergency Manger overseeing Flint, it would app read that our Governor, now that he’s completely fucked the city for at least a generation, is ready to return power to the democratically elected leaders of Flint.

One last thing. If you’re off from work or school tomorrow, there’s going to be an “Arrest Governor Snyder” rally and march in Ann Arbor. Things are apparently going to get started at 4:00 in front of the University of Michigan’s Rackham Building [915 East Washington Street]. Folks will then start marching at 4:30 to Snyder’s new home on Main Street… And, the following day, there will be a rally in Lansing prior to the Governors Sate of the State address.


[above: I mentioned earlier that the Flint water crisis was the number one story being discussed on Reddit today. Well, this is the image that accompanied the post. The caption read as follows: “A pastor holds up a bottle of Flint water during protests outside of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s office Thursday. The city’s been sending notices for past-due water bills even though the water has been poisoned with lead.”]

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  1. Meta
    Posted January 17, 2016 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    The Detroit Free Press is calling for the Governor to make his emails public.

    It’s none of your business what Gov. Rick Snyder knew about the Flint water crisis, or when he knew it, as it might be reflected in his emails.

    Also none of your business: What he may have been saying to his staff in emails about the lead contamination in the city’s water, or what his staff may have been saying to other officials in the departments of environmental quality or community health.

    That’s because Michigan law privileges all of that information, shielding it from the Freedom of Information Act, ostensibly as a way to permit the executive and legislative branches to more freely discuss and explore issues in the policy-making process. The shadow, supposedly, gives them more freedom to exchange ideas. (We’ll talk in a second about how wrong that thinking is, and how urgently that law needs to change.)

    But Snyder, whose administration is now embroiled in a scandal emanating from the foul-ups that led to water poisoning in Flint and the inexplicably slow response, owes all of us better than what the law calls for.

    He owes us full transparency, and explication.

    Which means he needs to waive his own FOIA privileges and release all the executive-branch emails about Flint. It’s the only way the truth — about the timeline, about the decision-making and who knew what — can ever come out. More important, it’s the only path to discovering how to avoid anything like this happening in the future.

    Consider the following:

    In 2013, then-state Treasurer Andy Dillon and Dennis Muchmore, Snyder’s chief of staff, had a phone call, to discuss “Flint water alternatives,” according to documents obtained by the Free Press under FOIA — from the treasurer’s office. Because the governor’s office holds itself exempt from FOIA, Muchmore’s response to the call — emails that might show what he told Snyder, either before or after that conversation with Dillon — aren’t subject to public scrutiny.

    Later that night, the Flint City Council voted to join the new Karegnondi Water Authority. Because Flint was under the oversight of a state-appointed emergency manager, that vote was largely ceremonial. The real decision-making power for cities under emergency management rests with the manager, who reports to the treasurer — and the treasurer reports to the governor.

    The following year, the City of Flint began to draw its drinking water from the Flint River. For months — as recently as last week — Snyder and his team have attempted to conflate that decision with the city’s move, a year earlier, to join the Karegnondi authority. But the decision to join the new regional authority did not mandate the immediate end of Flint’s relationship with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Genesee County, for example, has continued to purchase its drinking water from Detroit while the Karegnondi system is under construction. Surely emails sent among Snyder and his team could shed light on this decision — but Snyder’s press staff has, thus far, refused to release them.

    By spring of 2015, it was clear that the City of Flint’s water treatment plant — with the approval of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality — had botched treatment of drinking water pulled from the Flint River. It had neglected to add a chemical required for corrosion control, which forms a physical barrier inside plumbing pipes that stops lead in old welds and service pipes from leaching into drinking water. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials warned Flint and MDEQ that it should begin corrosion control immediately. Were those concerns ever communicated to Snyder’s office? Because of the governor’s FOIA exemption, emails that could make this clear can’t be part of the public record.

    On July 22, Muchmore wrote to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon that he was concerned about the state’s response to the Flint water crisis, that he felt the state had blown residents off. Muchmore’s inquiry prompted a flurry of activity in the state Department of Community Health, resulting in two analyses of blood-lead levels in Flint kids. One showed a spike in the proportion of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels beyond normal, seasonal increases. The other showed that everything was fine. That, community health staffers say, was the analysis passed on to Muchmore. But for observers who hope to understand the decision-making process, the governor’s team’s side of these exchanges — Muchmore’s response to the analysis — remains oblique.

    One of the most significant problems in the wake of the Flint water crisis has been the slow, scattered drip of information, and the inability to piece the entire picture together to draw definitive conclusions about the steps that led to the tragic decision-making, or the responses once it was known that Flint’s water supply had become poisoned by that decision-making. There’s certainly more information still awaiting release, but the full picture won’t be revealed until the governor’s office comes clean.

    Snyder has a long rhetorical record of supporting transparency in government,. His actions have never measured up to his words, but here, he has no defensible option. To even claim that he’s genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of this mess, he must release his emails. Transparency, in this instance, is a conceit that’s not quite as important as abetting the search for truth.

    Michigan is one of only two states where this is even an issue. While other states shield some sensitive documents from the reach of FOIA, only Massachusetts offers a blanket exemption like Michigan’s. Thanks to a former attorney general’s opinion, the Legislature is also covered by the FOIA exemption.

    This is one of the reasons Michigan ranks so low in national transparency assessments — and the Flint water crisis is the most garish and human example, to date, of the potential danger. On Friday, Common Cause Michigan urged the governor to apply freedom of information laws to his office.

    Long term, Michigan should subject all branches of government to the same level of openness and scrutiny. The governor’s office deserves no special carve-out from transparency.

    But immediately, Snyder must waive his own FOIA privilege and help the citizens of Michigan discover the truth about what happened in Flint.

    Read more:

  2. Anonymous
    Posted January 18, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Will Snyders’ Sate of the State address be televised tomorrow?

  3. Kevin Sharp
    Posted January 18, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    This is the kind of case that people in the US Attorney’s Office dream of. It’s the kind of case that makes careers. I’m sure they’re going after it with all they’ve got.

  4. Rick
    Posted January 18, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    This should surprise no one who reads this site. Don’t you remember this headline from a few months ago?

    “Michigan ranks dead last in accountability and transparency according to new nationwide study”

  5. Meta
    Posted January 18, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Sanders isn’t the only presidential candidate talking about Flint. Hillary Clinton brought the Flint situation up during last night’s debate. Governor Snyder was not pleased.

    Gov. Rick Snyder swung back at critics Monday by saying Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and filmmaker Michael Moore are among those “politicizing” the Flint water crisis for personal gain.

    The Republican governor, who has apologized repeatedly for the lead contamination of the city’s water, said he is focused on solutions for the struggling city.

    “People can draw their own conclusions, but that’s what it appears to me,” the Republican governor told The Detroit News after speaking at a Martin Luther King Day breakfast at the University of Michigan-Flint.

    In Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Clinton said every American “should be outraged” by what is happening in Flint, a predominately poor and African-American community where residents cannot drink their own water due to lead contamination.

    Snyder “acted as though he really didn’t care” about Flint residents and “basically stonewalled” on initial requests for help, she said.

    “Obviously, I care,” Snyder said of Clinton’s comments Monday morning in Flint. “I’m here today. We’ve done a number of actions. We’re going to keep working on putting solutions in place.

    “And what I would say is, politicizing the issue doesn’t help matters. Let’s focus in on the solution and how to deal with the damage that was done and help the citizens of Flint and make Flint a stronger community.”

    Read more:

  6. Lynne
    Posted January 18, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Really? It absolutely pisses me off when people suggest that anyone being critical of Snyder is doing so for political reasons. So what if they are? This guy has it coming.

  7. Meanwhile at MLive
    Posted January 18, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    The top story at the click-bait shell of the old Ann Arbor News this afternoon:

    “Poodle dies after eating sock”

  8. Tony
    Posted January 18, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    My favorite is the op-ed by the former Flint emergency manager trying to spin the story about how he’s not culpable because the Flint City Council approved that the water supply be switched. I suppose that’ll trick a few dumb people but it won’t fool those that realize this has nothing to do with the water supply being switched. This has to do with the fact that despite mounting evidence there was something wrong with the water supply, not only did they ignore it, but may have lied to cover it up.

    Someone or multiple people need to go to jail over this. An entire generation of kids in Flint are now going to have severe health issues.

  9. Lynne
    Posted January 18, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Oh and speaking about that Emergency Manager…the way he has been punished for this has been to be appointed the EFM for Detroit Public Schools. That is outrageous! I mean, he is being rewarded for the good job he did in Flint by putting him in charge of DPS? Oh my head spins!

    There sounds like a good protest is going on right now on Main Street. It is two blocks from my work but I can hear all of the yelling and it sounds like someone has drums. Good! I am going to go join them

  10. Meta
    Posted February 2, 2016 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the FBI is now looking into what happened in Flint.

    The FBI is now investigating the contamination of Flint’s drinking water, a man-made public health catastrophe, which has left an unknown number of Flint children and other residents poisoned by lead and resulted in state and federal emergency declarations.

    Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, told the Free Press Monday that federal prosecutors are “working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA’s Office of Inspector General, and EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.”

    The office of U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Jan. 5 that it was assisting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a Flint drinking water investigation, but at that time, Balaya would not say whether the investigation was civil or criminal.

    Balaya disclosed the involvement of the FBI and other agencies that investigate potential criminal wrongdoing late Monday when asked whether there were any concerns about the EPA leading the federal investigation, given the resignation of an EPA regional director over the Flint drinking water crisis and widespread public criticism of the EPA’s conduct with respect to Flint.

    The EPA’s Office of Inspector General is an independent office within EPA that performs audits, evaluations, and investigations of EPA and its contractors to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse. The EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division investigates potential criminal violations of federal environmental law.

    The disclosure of the FBI’s involvement in the investigation comes as the U.S. House Oversight Committee prepares to hold its first hearing on the issue Wednesday, amid reports that former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley will decline to testify.

    The existence of criminal investigations raises the possibility that some witnesses could exercise their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and decline to testify before legislative hearings.

    Read more:

  11. Posted August 2, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the information on your post. The people of Flint suffered because of lead poisoning. The badly affected here are the children who have contaminated water sources from their homes and schools. There has been a lead and copper rule from EPA and sad to say that there was no comprehensive corrosion control program in place. The title of the post is true there’s a “coverup”.

6 Trackbacks

  1. […] This problem is bigger than just Flint, she told me. The EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, despite the issue in Flint, and the one in D.C. about a decade ago, is continuing to be weakened. […]

  2. By Snyder Watch 2016: Dinner at Old Town on January 29, 2016 at 8:16 am

    […] A year or so ago, when Rick Snyder announced that he’d be selling his house in the gated community outside of Ann Arbor and moving to a million dollar condo downtown, I’m sure it seemed like a good idea. Even though he’d done things in office that people didn’t like, folks still, for the most part, were happy to see him, and treated him with respect. That, however, is apparently beginning to change thanks to his role in the poisoning of Flint and the subsequent coverup. […]

  3. […] 2015, there were multiple email exchanges and conference calls between the MDEQ and EPA (about the Lead and Copper Rule),” he said. “Yet when the parties were unable to come to consensus on its […]

  4. […] today in Flint and what happened a dozen years ago in DC, but suggests that, due the weakening of the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, we could see more of the […]

  5. […] today in Flint and what happened a dozen years ago in DC, but suggests that, due the weakening of the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, we could see more of the same in the near […]

  6. […] people from Virginia Tech that Walters alluded to above. Lambrinidou and I discussed the history of the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, and how, since it was first passed in 1991, it’s been systematically weakened by water […]

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