The Feds are investigating the Snyder administration’s role in poisoning the children of Flint

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On December 31, the editors of the Flint Journal printed an editorial asking Governor Snyder to go beyond just apologizing for the public health emergency caused by his administration Flint and open up state records to federal investigators, so it could be determined how it came to pass that the people of Flint were not only provided with contaminated drinking water for a significant period of time, but told by the administration that they should ignore the warnings of public health officials and continue to drink it. Well, while Snyder has yet to agree to make his correspondences public, things took a positive turn earlier today when the office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office made it public that they would be launching a formal investigation into the Flint water crisis… Before we get to that, though, here’s a clip from the Flint Journal editorial referenced above.

…The seeds of the water crisis began when the state installed an emergency financial manager to oversee Flint in 2011. While Flint local leaders bear the responsibility for their inability to manage the city’s finances, they were not in position of control when a decision was made to save money by switching the city’s drinking source. And as we know now, that resulted in elevated blood lead levels for untold numbers of Flint’s citizenry.

The apology, and the resignations, confirm that state leaders know they did not do enough when concerns were raised about water quality. In fact, attempts were made by the state and its appointed managers to place the blame for the switch on local Flint leaders. As the controversy unfolded, the Snyder administration tried to discredit health concerns raised by Flint citizens and doctors, then very late in the process acknowledged the mistakes that were made.

We urge Snyder to take a series of corrective actions to ensure transparency, heal a wounded city and re-establish confidence in the political process:

• Drop executive privilege and release all of his communications on Flint water.
• Request an investigation from the U.S. Attorney’s office so that subpoenas can be issued.
• Replace every lead water service line in the city of Flint.
• Start a process for compensating families whose children have elevated levels of lead in their blood.
• Return Flint to local control…

That first part, about executive privilege, in case it’s not clear, refers to the fact that Michigan is one of only two states in the country in which records from the governor’s office are not subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. [This, I’m sure, helped Michigan earn the title a few weeks back of being the least transparent and accountable of all 50 state governments in the United States.]

For what it’s worth, we’re being told by the administration that efforts are being made to increase transparency and accountability… According to a recent MLive report, “A spokesman for Snyder said the governor has worked to increase transparency and accountability in state government and has pledged to cooperate with the Flint Water Task Force that the governor appointed in October.”

That’s right… In an effort to increase transparency and accountability, Governor Snyder pledged to cooperate with members of a task force that he appointed… This, by the way, is the same task force, that, just a few days ago, issued their preliminary report, which placed all of the blame for what happened in Flint squarely at the feet of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Director Dan Wyant, some distance from the Governor’s office.

But the noose is tightening. Last night, Rachel Maddow once again featured the issue on her national MSNBC broadcast, urging federal investigators in the U.S. Attorney’s Office to get involved. And, as I mentioned above, today the Justice Department confirmed that an investigation is underway. [Can you hear the shredders in Lansing tonight?]

Here, before we go any further, is the segment of Maddow’s show last night about calls for an investigation of the Snyder administration.

And, here, from the Detroit Free Press, is a clip from their article this afternoon about the involvement of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

…Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, said Tuesday her office is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on an investigation. She would not say whether the investigation is a criminal or civil matter.

“We’re just confirming that we’re looking into it,” Balaya told the Free Press.

She said the U.S. Attorney’s Office doesn’t normally confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, but it made an exception in this case because of the number of inquiries it was receiving from Flint residents. She would not place a time line on the investigation.

“In an effort to address the concerns of Flint residents, the United States Attorney’s Office for the eastern district of Michigan is working closely with the EPA in the investigation of the contamination of the City of Flint’s water supply,” she said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is an arm of the U.S. Justice Department. There have been numerous calls for a Justice Department investigation into the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, resulting in a spike in lead levels among Flint children. Lead can cause irreversible brain damage and has been linked to behavioral problems…

One suspects that, among other things, they’ll be looking into the fact that lead tests were hidden on someone’s order in hopes of making the situation in Flint appear to be less dire than it actually was. Here, with more on that, is a clip from Michigan Radio.

…Edwards and the ACLU of Michigan obtained internal documents that showed the city originally submitted 71 drinking water samples to the state in July.

We did the math on those samples using the federal lead and copper rule. This original sample pool of 71 put the city over the federally mandated action level of 15 parts per billion of lead.

The city would have had to alert people that there was a lead problem, and they would have had to implement a corrosion control plan to keep the water from corroding the insides of pipes – a plan that was surprisingly absent in Flint. And they may have been required to start replacing lead service lines in the city.

This is all an expensive proposition in a city that made the switch to save money.

But that never happened.

State officials came back and told the city to drop two samples.

Dropping those two samples put the city below the action level for lead. If the state had just dropped one high sample, Flint still would have been over the federal action level.

But dropping two samples put them below the action level…

The samples in question

Mike Glasgow is with the city of Flint. He’s the guy in charge of collecting the water samples.

Glasgow remembers including samples taken at one home that showed extremely high lead levels. A sample of Lee Anne Walters’ home turned up a result of 104 parts per billion – almost seven times the federally mandated limit.

“They instructed me to take it off the report,” says Glasgow. “I know she had taken some other samples and they had all the results too. I don’t know that I can give you a good enough answer to tell you why they decided to remove it from the report.”…

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that we’ll see subpoenas issued, and, in time, criminal indictments.

My hunch, as I’ve stated before, is that we’ll learn quite a bit about how much our Governor knew, and when he knew it, by looking at the correspondences between his spokesperson Sara Wurfel, and MDEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel – the man who went on record as the evidence of lead contamination was beginning to mount, telling the people of Flint to just “relax” and keep drinking the water. I’m sure the husband and wife, who have since both left their jobs with the Snyder administration, have tried their best to scrub clean their accounts, but I suspect Justice Department investigators have ways of bringing erased texts back to life and reconstructing email conversations. And, if Snyder was involved in orchestrating the coverup, my sense is that we’ll find significant evidence of such in the correspondences of these two, who were, by the nature of their respective jobs, charged with keeping this story out of the news.

One final question. Assuming Snyder goes to prison for his role in this, would it be considered cruel and unusual punishment to require, at the time of his sentencing, that all of his drinking water, while serving time, be sourced from the Flint River, and piped to his cell, untreated, by way of lead pipes?

[The image at the top of the page, if it’s not familiar, is from our 2013 Pure Michigan campaign.]

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7 Comments

  1. Peter Larson
    Posted January 6, 2016 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Interesting.

  2. Eel
    Posted January 6, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    As I was drifting off to sleep a few nights ago I envisioned Snyder sitting above a dunk tank full of Flint water. If he doesn’t go to trial for his role, maybe this would be an acceptable alternative. Give everyone in Flint an opportunity to throw a ball and dunk him.

  3. Mr. X
    Posted January 6, 2016 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    The word I think you’re looking for, Peter, isn’t “interesting,” but “criminal.”

  4. Cher Fan
    Posted January 6, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Cher wants to have Snyder killed by firing squad.

    From her Twitter:

    Cher ✔@cher
    WTF IS GOING ON W/POWER
    MAD,GREED DRIVEN,KILLER,
    INCOMPETENT,POLITICIANS?THEY R CRIMNALS‼️
    GOV.RICK SNYDER OF MICH.
    #FIRINGSQUADWORKSFORME
    10:49 PM – 5 Jan 2016

  5. Lynne
    Posted January 6, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Maybe this will be the case that brings capital punishment to Michigan?

  6. General Demitrious
    Posted January 6, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    1. The roll of the emergency manager in this problem is unclear, at least to me. The city council is the party that approved the temporary switch to Flint river water. This was after it was discovered that the new Lake Huron water system would not be ready until 2017. Why the urgency to change water systems? I think the answer is that Flint announced their intention to switch water providers to DPW, and DPW promptly doubled their water charges to Flint. Now this is where it gets interesting. When the proposal to use Flint river water was passed by city council, DPW offered to reduce the water rates to Flint, and the EM of Flint refused the request!

    The deletion of data will prove to be procedural, not criminal wrongdoing, and it is DEQ’s fault. When data is assumed to have a Gausian distribution, it is normal to throw out outlier data points. The assumption is that these outlying points have a non-stochastic behavior (a particular house has all lead pipes, samples were contaminated during the analysis, etc.) The problem is that Lead level data is not to be assumed Gausian, and therefore all data should be counted. EPA told DEQ this after the blood samples from children became public.

    Now, this is where Snyder is culpable. I believe that he did know that there was a real possibility that Flint Lead levels were too high at the time that he was publicly stating otherwise, and this is what the DOJ investigation will probably be trying to find out.

  7. Taco Farts
    Posted January 6, 2016 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    This claim that since the (democratically elected) city council voted to change the water supply (note: there is apparently no record that they specified using the river as their new source), that means they are solely to blame, needs to go away.

    “We like cheeseburgers.”

    “Oh, hello there. I heard you previously stated you like cheeseburgers. Since I’m here now, I have no choice but to shove this cheeseburger whole into your throat so that you choke and die on it. I mean, before I got here you said you like cheeseburgers, so when you inevitably die from choking on this whole cheeseburger that I must now shove into your throat, it’s your own fault. Sure, it’s true that I have been given complete and total control over your mouth, food, and airway, immunity from any negative consequences of my actions, and a job title that implies my only goal should be helping you thrive, but you did say you like cheeseburgers. Totally your fault.”

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  1. […] the past several days, since the Justice Department announced their formal inquiry into the events in Flint that left dozen… and Govern Snyder’s decision to finally declare a state of emergency, we’re finally […]

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