Congressman seeks federal probe into Flint water problems

Officials in Michigan are asking the United States Environmental Protection Agency to answer questions about its oversight of state environmental regulators after elevated blood-lead levels were found in children whose Flint homes received river water. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who represents the Flint area in Congress, and state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint said that they have sent letters to the EPA. Flint reconnected to Detroit’s water system last week in hopes of resolving the health emergency. “It has become clear to me that unacceptable lead levels were a failure of government at every level,” Kildee wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “In order to restore confidence, and to ensure that these failures never happen again, I believe that the EPA needs to conduct a thorough investigation into the causes of the water problems in Flint.” The EPA told The Associated Press that the agency is reviewing the requests from Democrats Ananich and Kildee. Flint, a city of about 99,000 people, switched from Detroit’s water system last year in a cost-cutting move while under state emergency financial management. The Flint River was supposed to be an interim source until the city could join a new system getting water from Lake Huron that is scheduled to be completed next year. But residents complained about the taste, smell and appearance of water coming into their homes and businesses from the Flint River. Officials long maintained that the water met safety standards. But corrosive water was drawing lead from aging pipes, and the state recently corroborated findings of elevated lead levels in children and disclosed higher lead amounts in three Flint schools. State Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant said that federal drinking water rules were not followed properly when Flint made the switch to river water. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-led Legislature last week approved $9.3 million in aid to address the crisis, which included $6 million to help temporarily reconnect the city to Detroit’s water system. Ananich called for an audit and for legislative hearings on the water crisis. Michigan’s Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof told reporters that he was “concerned” about the crisis and wants to see the Snyder administration’s “after-action” reports. But he was noncommittal when asked about Ananich’s request for oversight hearings. “At this point I haven’t decided if that’s an appropriate course of action,” Meekhof said. “There’s a whole lot of blame to go around, but at this point we now have fixed the problem so we don’t have the problems that lead to lead contamination in schools, as far as I know,” he said. Snyder announced the creation of an independent advisory task force to review Flint’s water use and testing. The group includes public health and medicine, water management and environmental protection experts. “Bringing in outside experts to evaluate our actions and help monitor and advise on potential changes to law, procedures and practices will be key to continuing work on the comprehensive action plan and ensuring safe drinking water for all the residents in Flint and all of Michigan,” Snyder said in a release.

The Big Story, 21 October 2015 ; ;