Flint crisis timeline: Part 3
This portion of the timeline encompasses July 2015 - present
To go back to Part 1 (2004 - 2014), click here
To go back to Part 2 (January 2015 - June 2015), click here
July 1, 2015: EPA’s Jennifer Crooks sends an email to 18 people to present draft notes of what appears to be a “semi-annual” regulatory overview call on June 10, 2015 between EPA and MDEQ drinking water staff. Not all of the recipients’ affiliations are noted in Crooks’ emails. But recipients include Shekter Smith, Benzie, Prysby, Cook, and Busch (all from MDEQ) as well as Poy and Del Toral from EPA. Several other MDEQ staffers not previously included in the now-public email correspondence regarding Flint are also copied. Those additional MDEQ staffers include: Carrie Monosmith (supervisor of the MDEQ Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Environmental Health Section); and, Dana DeBruyn, Dan Dettweiler, and Kevin Holdwick (of MDEQ’s Noncommunity and Private Drinking Water Supplies Unit). The draft notes of the June 10 conference call detail a wide range of covered topics, with considerable emphasis on the Flint situation. Key points of the meeting notes, which were authored by an EPA staffer (Crooks), include:
- “Our discussions with MDEQ indicate that no phosphates/corrosion control has been added to the system since April 2014 when the source of drinking water changed to the Flint River. We understand that the City is just finishing up its second set of 6-month initial monitoring for lead where the results will probably warrant a Corrosion Control Study to be conducted. Since Flint has lead service lines, we understand some citizen-requested lead sampling is exceeding the Action Level, and the source of drinking water will be changing again in 2016, so to start a Corrosion Control Study now doesn’t make sense.”
- “Miguel (Del Toral) believes that lead levels in Flint are being affected by the lack of corrosion control being conducted by the City… Steve Busch stated that in the Lead sampling pool, almost all of the lead sample sites are lead service lines and the State is not seeing large increases in lead levels at the tap.” (Truth Squad Note: The Michigan Auditor General, outside researchers and media reporters soon debunk the assertion that all lead sample sites in Flint are of lead service lines.)
- Del Toral wants EPA technical experts added to the Flint situation to deal with lead in the interim… “Steve (Busch) pointed out that the City is following the LCR requirements…” Del Toral is clearly asserting that’s not good enough, but there’s no evidence in the email record that others are clearly backing him up… “Miguel’s point is that since the LCR was promulgated 20+ years ago, that research and different situations, like Washington, D.C., have educated scientists, experts, and regulators that the existing requirements in the LCR may not be as protective as previously thought. Thus, he can only make recommendations as to how to revise sampling protocols. And Miguel acknowledges that it may be another year before these regulation changes are promulgated in the Long-Term Lead and Copper Rule.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: In January 2016, EPA issued its well-publicized “Emergency Order” regarding Flint Water. The order accused Michigan of “a lack of transparency” and stated “During May and June, 2015, EPA Region 5 staff at all levels expressed concern to MDEQ and the City about increasing concentrations of lead in Flint drinking water and conveyed its concern about lack of corrosion control and recommended that the expertise of EPA’s Office of Research and Development should be used to avoid further water quality problems moving forward.” Not exactly.In fact, this portion of the January 2016 EPA order itself lacks transparency. The above draft notes of the June 10 EPA/MDEQ meeting once again make Del Toral’s concerns clear. But there is no sense in this record that anyone else at either the state or federal agencies share that concern and urgency. EPA issues no orders to MDEQ. MDEQ stands firm in its defense of its interpretation of the Lead and Copper Rule. And the meeting notes, written by an EPA supervisor, imply agreement with the MDEQ contention that “the source of drinking water will be changing again in 2016, so to start a Corrosion Control Study now doesn’t make sense.” Again, there’s a suggestion of regulators at both the state and federal levels playing a waiting game to endure the Flint River situation until the Karegnondi Water Authority comes online in 2016. And yet more state and federal drinking water regulators are on record of being aware of Del Toral’s concerns without clear action to address those concerns.)
July 1, 2015: EPA Region 5 Director Susan Hedman significantly downplays – and even apologizes for - Del Toral’s June 24 memo in an email to Flint Mayor Dayne Walling. Walling wrote to Hedman on June 30th, requesting a copy of Del Toral’s June 24th memo. Walling heard about the memofrom Curt Guyette, a reporter at the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. Guyette would soon publicly break the story of Del Toral’s memo and his grave concerns about the safety of the Flint drinking water. Hedman writes to Walling:
- “The EPA staffer mentioned in your email prepared a draft report and apparently shared it with the citizen as a courtesy because her name and children’s blood lead levels were mentioned in the report before sending the draft report up the EPA management chain for review… The preliminary draft report should not have been released outside the agency. When the report has been revised and fully vetted by EPA management, the findings and recommendations will be shared with the City and MDEQ and MDEQ will be responsible for following up with the city… Again I apologize for taking all day to get back to you and for the manner in which this matter was handled.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Add the EPA’s very top official in the Midwest region to the long and growing list of state and federal regulators who know about, but are not urgently acting on, Del Toral’s concerns. Also add Flint’s mayor at the time to those at least partially in the know, but Walling tries and can’t get the actual Del Toral memo. Instead, EPA Region 5 Director Susan Hedman apologizes “for the manner in which this matter was handled.”)
July 7, 2015: MDEQ Public Information Officer Karen Tommasulo emails MDEQ Communications Director Brad Wurfel: “I got a weird call from a ‘reporter’ with the ACLU asking about Flint drinking water. His name is Curt Guyette, and I’m 98 percent sure it’s the same guy who used to work at the Metro Times. He said he heard from someone at EPA that we use a ‘flawed methodology’ to collect our water samples… Additionally, he claimed Flint is not adding corrosion control to their water, and said a city of their size should be doing so by law. But apparently we told Flint they didn’t have to. I didn’t offer any comment, just took the message from him. Do you want to talk to him, or does this one need to go to Liane’s shop?” Two days later, Tommasulo emails Wurfel again as Michigan Public Radio begins picking up on the ACLU reports… “Apparently, it is going to be a thing now.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: These, we believe, are the first communications in publicly released emails to date in which state employees whose job it is to speak directly to the public on behalf of the Snyder Administration are documented discussing a potential lead problem in Flint drinking water.)
July 9, 2015: ACLU-Michigan reporter Curt Guyette breaks the story of serious concerns about lead in Flint’s drinking water by detailing the June 24 EPA-Del Toral memo and telling the story of high lead levels in LeeAnne Walters' water, and exposing the lack of ongoing corrosion control in Flint drinking water treatment.
July 9, 2015: Brad Wurfel emails Steve Busch at DEQ as ACLU-Michigan is breaking the story of the June 24 Del Toral memo and Michigan Radio reporter Lindsey Smith is sending related press inquiries to Wurfel. At this point MDEQ officials have clearly heard Del Toral’s concerns numerous times, but they still do not have Del Toral’s June 24 memo.
- Wurfel writes: “The ACLU has saved us the trouble of waiting on the EPA for the report… it’s online at the link below… Miguel apparently asserts that the DEQ and EPA are at odds on proper protocol. Which seems weird.”
- Busch responds 27 minutes later: “Obviously we are not going to comment on an interim draft report.” Busch then cites federal regulations to defend MDEQ’s ongoing lead sampling procedures in Flint under the Lead and Copper Rule.
July 10, 2015: EPA Region 5 Director Hedman shares EPA’s public comment on the ACLU report with Flint Mayor Walling via email: “EPA continues to work closely with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Flint to ensure that Flint residents are provided with safe drinking water…. EPA will work with Michigan DEQ and the City of Flint to verify and assess the extent of lead contamination issues and to ensure that Flint’s drinking water meets federal standards.”
July 13, 2015: “Let me start here – anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.” – Brad Wurfel, MDEQ spokesman, to Michigan Radio in a story headlined, “Leaked internal memo shows federal regulator’s concerns about lead in Flint’s water.
July 14, 2015: In spite of growing public concern, growing media investigations, and the alarm of EPA’s Del Toral, MDEQ actually allows the City of Flint to decrease the number of homes sampled for lead in the second six-month testing period. This comes to light in an email from Jennifer Crooks (EPA) to Busch, Prysby, and Cook at DEQ on July 14… “I understand that Flint didn’t get the minimum number of lead samples (100) for the second six-month monitoring period that ended June 30, so I assume Flint is collecting the remaining samples now.” Busch responds a day later, “We will provide the 90th percentile when available, but at this point we do not anticipate any violations of the Lead and Copper Rule.” MDEQ later explains in written briefings that the number of samples was decreased to 60 in the second six-month sampling period because Flint’s population had dropped below 100,000. Therefore, a full 100 samples were no longer required by law.
July 21, 2015: EPA and DEQ hold conference call on DEQ’s implementation of the lead and copper rule (as documented in the Michigan Auditor General’s timeline published in December 2015) There appears to be ongoing disagreement between the agencies. EPA wants optimized corrosion control in Flint. MDEQ believes this is premature. (Truth Squad Note: But the federal agency doesn't take steps to override the state agency until months later. In November, EPA clarifies nationwide policy and says optimized corrosion control should begin at the instant that any such major water source switch begins.)
Email from MDEQ’s Liane Shekter Smith to EPA’s Tinka Hyde same day in reference to the dual-agency conference call:
- “(W)hile we understand your concerns with the overall implementation of the lead and copper rule(s); we think it is appropriate for EPA to indicate in writing (an email would be sufficient) your concurrence that the city is in compliance with the lead and copper rule as implemented in Michigan… This would help distinguish between our goals to address important public health issues separately from the compliance requirements of the actual rule which we believe have been and continue to be met in the city of Flint.”
TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Perhaps this is a question for investigators to now pursue… Why is Shekter Smith, a top Michigan drinking water regulator, making this distinction between “our goals to address important public health issues” and “compliance requirements”? Truth Squad is reminded at this point of a key conclusion of the fact-finding body formed in October 2015 by Governor Rick Snyder – the Flint Water Advisory Task Force. In a December 29 letter to Snyder this task force said: “We believe that in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance at MDEQ, a culture exists in which ‘technical compliance’ is considered sufficient to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan. This minimalist approach to regulatory oversight responsibility is unacceptable and simply insufficient to the task of public protection. It led to MDEQ’s failure to recognize a number of indications that switching the water source in Flint would – and did – compromise both water safety and water quality. The MDEQ made a number of decisions that were, and continue to be, justified on the basis that federal rules ‘allowed’ those decisions to be made. ODWMA must adopt a posture that is driven not by this minimalist technical compliance approach, but rather by one that is founded on what needs to be done to assure drinking water safety.”)
July 22, 2015: Snyder Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore expresses frustration with state agencies for not addressing the legitimate concerns of Flint residents, and sends email urging Nick Lyon (MDHSS) and Dan Wyant (MDEQ) to go deeper on Flint:
“I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint. 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 DEQ samples. 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).”
The Muchmore email is forwarded by Nancy Grijalva, assistant to the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to Paula Anderson (an executive secretary in MDHHS’ public health administration division) and Susan Moran (MDHHS deputy director for population health and community services). Anderson then forwards Muchmore’s email to another MDHHS employee, Mark Miller, who responds:
- “There’s an article from the Metro Times I located.. Based on this it sounds like at least one family might have had a child with elevated blood levels, which might or might now have come from the water. Sounds like the issue is old lead service lines… DEQ has jurisdiction over municipal water supplies, but we do have a program to follow up on children with elevated blood levels, so I think it would be appropriate for the folks above to discuss the situation and recommend any action.”
July 23, 2015: A more detailed response to the Muchmore inquiry is provided by Linda Dykema, director of the MDHHS Division of Environmental Health. She sends an email to the following colleagues: Corrine Miller (State Epidemiologist and director of the MDHHS Bureau of Epidemiology); Nancy Peeler (program director of the MDHHS program for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting); Rashmi Travis (MDHHS director for Family, Maternal and Child Health); Nancy Grijalva; Susan Moran; Wesley Priem (manager of the MDHHS Healthy Homes Section); , James Bouters (a secretary for MDHHS Zoonotics and Special Projects team) Jacqui Barr (secretary for the MDHHS Division of Environmental Health); Brenda Fink (director of the MDHHS Family and Community Health Division); and, Kory Groetsch (manager for the Toxicology and Response Section of the MDHHS Division of Environmental Health).
In essence, Dykema reports no urgency after talking to Steve Busch at MDEQ. She summarizes the discussion with Busch in her email to colleagues and notes “this is what I sent up to my front office” as follows:
- “The DEQ has not seen a change in the city’s compliance with the lead rule since switching to the Flint River source.”
- “Regarding the EPA drinking water official quoted in the press articles, the report that he issued was a result of his own research and was not reviewed or approved by EPA management. He has essentially acted outside his authority.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: EPA’s Miguel Del Toral, the one regulator who has consistently sounded the alarm about the potential for lead in Flint drinking water, surfaces again. And is ignored – and in this case, discredited – again. The ignorance of Del Toral’s warnings now spreads to a second state agency charged with the protection of public health.)
July 24, 2015: More evidence that the governor’s office is getting more community pressure from Flint. And more deflection and denial from the front-line MDEQ staff charged with watchdogging public drinking water.
- Email from MDEQ’s Brad Wurfel to MDEQ colleagues Busch, Prysby, Shekter Smith and DEQ Director Dan Wyant: “Guys, the Flint Ministers met with the Governor’s office again last week. They also brought along some folks from the community – a college prof and GM engineer – who imparted that 80 water tests in Flint have shown high lead levels. Could use an update on the January/June testing results, as well as recap of the December testing numbers, and any overview you can offer to edify this conversation.”
- DEQ’s Busch responds same day in email to Wurfel copied to all others on the original note: Busch relates that the second round of Flint drinking water testing shows a 90th percentile level of 11 parts per billion. (Truth Squad Note: That’s nearly double that of the first six-month test but apparently no alarm to DEQ as it’s below the federal Action Level Standard of 15 parts per billion.)
- Busch further relates that for the past 20 years Flint’s water has never reached the 15 parts per billion level (Truth Squad Note: This is an arguably irrelevant issue, since for almost all that time the city was on Detroit water with corrosion control.)
- And Busch states: “Sampling requirements look at the worst case plumbing materials. Samples must be collected in accordance with the regulatory requirements and criteria in order to be used for compliance determinations.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: In hindsight, a very troubling set of assertions. First, it ignores Del Toral’s concerns about MDEQ’s sampling requirements. Second, it ignores the fact that the number of samples collected in Flint actually decreased significantly in the second six-month sampling period (from 100 to 60). Third, the MDEQ/Flint sampling process is later determined by the State Auditor General to be flawed – the regulators aren’t looking at “worst-case” plumbing, instead, as is later shown, they’re not even sure they’re sampling from lead service lines.)
- Busch also relates in this correspondence his version of the latest discussion with EPA over the corrosion control issue… (Flint) now will "complete a study (within 18 months) and are allowed a period of additional time (2 additional years) to install the selected treatment for fully optimized corrosion control…. We are planning to suggest the City directly submit a treatment process to shorten the timeline to achieve full optimization. This letter is currently being drafted but won’t be ready to mail out for another week… Liane and I had a conference call with EPA Region V in Chicago on Tuesday to go over all of this and they are in support or these next steps with the City.”
TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: In hindsight, this is another very troubling set of assertions. The clear implication here is that MDEQ and EPA are in agreement on next steps. To be sure, EPA officials have not acted with urgency or alarm to their colleague Del Toral’s concerns. But recent email correspondence had documented considerable disagreement between EPA and MDEQ about the complete lack of corrosion control in the Flint drinking water system. Months later, both EPA and the Michigan Auditor General will conclude that Flint never should have switched to Flint River water without corrosion control. And nobody on this email correspondence seems reminded of Del Toral’s alarms and perspectives which completely contradict the apparent group-think within MDEQ.)
July 24, 2015: Two days after the governor’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, worries the state is blowing off the Flint concerns, DEQ’s Brad Wurfel urges Muchmore and DEQ Director Wyant not to worry.
Wurfel writes to Muchmore, Wyant and Tom Saxton at the Michigan Department of Treasury:
- “Guys, here’s an update and some clarification on the lead situation in Flint. Please limit this information to internal for now.”
- “By the tenants of the federal statute, the city is in compliance for lead and copper. That aside, they have not optimized their water treatment… Compliance with the standard started with testing… Everything checks out in terms of compliance, but now the next step is optimizing the water supply. So, in about two weeks, DEQ will be sending a formal communication about the optimizing issue. The federal program has long timelines for action. A community water supplier gets 18 months to study the options, and two years thereafter to implement water system optimization measures. My point: Conceivably, by the time we’re halfway through the first timeline, the city will begin using a new water source with KWA… and conceivably, the whole process starts all over again. In terms of near-future issues, the bottom line is that residents of Flint do not need to worry about lead in their water supply, and DEQ’s recent sampling does not indicate an eminent health threat from lead or copper.”
- Muchmore sends back a one-word reply… “Thanks.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Wurfel’s assertion here that “the residents of Flint do not need to worry” may go down as one of the biggest blow-offs in the entire Flint water saga. In his defense, Wurfel is a communications director, he’s not a scientist. He’s clearly getting his information directly from the front-line MDEQ drinking water regulations team. Even so, there is no sense of urgency coming from Wurfel or anyone at his agency. It's also worth noting that the governor's top aide is now being told explicitly that the water flowing through the faucets of Flint residents has not been "optimized" (i.e., treated to prevent lead from leaching into the water) by the state agency charged with keeping the water supply safe, this on top of the lead concerns raised by the leaked EPA memo. At this point, what is the Snyder Administration to do? At this point, who should the governor and his top advisers trust? Should they trust the many months of public concerns coming directly from Flint? Should they trust the media? Should they trust two state agencies directly charged with protecting public health and drinking water safety –agencies that are providing no sense of alarm that are acknowledging a lack of "optimization" in Flint's water yet seem more invested in relying upon the lengthy action timelines allowed by federal regulation than expediently addressing rising lead rates? Should the Snyder Administration at this point open some other kind of investigation that would be well outside the norms and boundaries of public health oversight and drinking water regulation? Should Snyder's office, at this point, have reached the same "common sense" conclusion that a serious lead danger existed in Flint that Snyder would later accuse front-line state regulators of failing to reach? The currently available public record – which likely is not the complete public record – suggests that the governor’s office appeared to choose to continue to weigh options and ask more questions. It would be many weeks before the most important questions would be met with forthright and accurate answers. And only through the work of independent expert researchers well outside the sphere of state government would the full scope of the Flint disaster ultimately be revealed to the people of Flint, and the rest of Michigan and the nation.)
July 28, 2015, 9:25 a.m.: Cristin Larder, a MDHHS epidemiologist, is one of numerous department staffers who begin to analyze state data on childhood lead blood tests in apparent response to Dennis Muchmore’s July 22 inquiry. Larder emails Nancy Peeler (director of the MDHHS program for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting) and Patricia McKane (manager of the MDHHS Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Section). Larder reports some preliminary conclusions from checking the data on Flint children. Specifically, there’s a spike in elevated blood lead levels in Flint in summer 2014, in the months after Flint switches to Flint River drinking water.
- Larder writes: “Basically, I used the monthly data from 2013-14 to create upper and lower control limits, then plotted the 2014-15 data in a run chart. It shows that the three months in question are the only ones that lie outside the control limit: in fact, they are the only points that lie well above the mean at all. This doesn’t say anything about causality, but it does warrant further investigation.”
July 28, 2015, 1:48 p.m.: Robert L. Scott, data manager for the MDHHS Healthy Homes and Lead Prevention program, also is analyzing state data. Like Larder, Scott sees the summer 2014 spike in Flint blood lead levels. But he doesn’t think it’s serious.
- Scott writes: “I said this morning I’d look to see if the distribution of (elevated blood lead levels) in the July-September 2014 ‘spike’ was any different from the typical distribution of (elevated blood lead levels) in Flint. I compared totals by zip code vs. totals by zip code from 2010 (of blood lead levels greater than five micrograms per deciliter). The pattern is very similar and is further evidence, I think, that the water was not a major factor here.”
July 28, 2015, 2:57 p.m.: Nancy Peeler, director of the MDHHS program for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting, responds in detail to the July 22 departmental inquiry precipitated by the email of the governor’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore. The recipients of Peeler’s email are unclear. She reports efforts to “review our Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program data to see if it might contribute to the understanding of the situation in Flint with their water supply. Key points in Peeler’s email:
- “We compared lead testing rates and lead testing results to the same time frame for the previous 3 years, to see if there were any patterns that suggested that there were increased rates of lead poisoning after water supply was switched… There was a spike in elevated blood lead tests from July-September 2014 (chart on left, gold line)…. However that pattern is not terribly different than what we saw in the previous three years… (W)e are working with our epidemiologist to statistically verify any significant differences… We commonly see a seasonal effect with lead, related to people opening and closing windows more often in the summer, which disturbed old deteriorating paint on the windows… We suspect that the summer spike may be related to this effect… If the home water supply lines and/or river water were contributing to elevated blood lead tests, we expected that the increased rates would extend beyond summer, but they drop quite a bit from September to October, stayed low over the winter, and are just starting to tail up again in the spring of 2015…”
- “So, upon review, we don’t believe our data demonstrates an increase in lead poisoning rates that might be attributable to the change in water for Flint.”
- A MDHHS chart accompanying Peeler’s email clearly states… “Based on the results… positive tests for elevated blood lead levels were higher than usual for children under age 16 living in the City of Flint during the months of July, August and September, 2014…. However, it’s important to note that the purpose of control charts is to monitor data for quick detection of abnormal variation – not to construct a case for causality.”
Brenda Fink, director of the MDHHS Family and Community Health Division at DCH, responds by email: “Really nice job… Great data, great language helping folks understand what the data says.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: In fact, additional third-party research will eventually demonstrate that - at this point and for several more weeks - MDHHS does not understand what its own data actually says. Only after a separate and crucial Flint-specific lead study released in September by Hurley Medical Center in Flint will MDHHS revisit its data and eventually, and painfully, come to the realization that blood lead levels in Flint children are, indeed, rising - and that the rise points toward lead in the drinking water. Ultimately, on December 22, Governor Snyder’s new director of communications, Meegan Holland declares in email talking points prepared to respond to ongoing criticism: “It wasn’t until the Hurley report came out that our epidemiologists took a more in-depth look at the data by zip code, controlling for seasonal variation, and confirmed an increase outside of normal trends. As a result of this process, we have determined that the way we analyze data collected needs to be thoroughly reviewed.”
MDHHS’s failure to see warning signs in childhood lead testing data is the second punch in a one-two combination of state government incompetence regarding the Flint crisis. First comes many months of ignorance, missed warnings, denial, and inaction in the MDEQ regarding the lack of corrosion control in the Flint water pipes, even after alarms are repeatedly raised by EPA. Then comes weeks of ignorance, missed warnings, denial and inaction in MDHHS regarding elevated lead levels in Flint children.)
August 3: Email from Tinka Hyde (EPA) to Liane Shekter Smith (DEQ) regarding notes taken during a July 21 conference call between the agencies regarding the Flint Water System… Key points:
- The first question out of the box at the top of the document: “Is there a public health concern regarding lead in Flint or other regulatory requirements?”
- The document notes that the second round of six-month monitoring resulted in elevation of the 90th percentile to 11 parts per billion. This is nearly double the level of 6 parts per billion in the first six-month monitoring round. But there’s no noted concern about that fact in the meeting notes.
- Much of the rest of the safety discussion is about long-anticipated timelines for corrosion control studies and the anticipated 2016 Flint switch from Flint River water to Karegnondi Water Authority service.
- And there’s more haggling over corrosion control without resolution or swift action by either the state or federal agencies: “MDEQ explained that they did not treat the switch to Flint River water as a ‘new system,’ but as a new source… Region 5 (EPA) noted that under 141.81b3iii that any system that has been deemed optimized must notify the State of any long-term change in treatment or the addition of a new source. The state must review and approve the change… Region 5 explained that they have talked to HQ about the interpretation of regulations and believes that systems that have been deemed optimized need to “maintain corrosion control”… MDEQ mentioned that there are other communities that may leave the Detroit system or connect to the new Lake Huron pipeline, but many of those either don’t need to treat for corrosion control or will be building new treatment plants.”
- “MDEQ is not interested in changing its position on pre-flushing until new regulations come out. They also pointed out that the pre-flushing instructions are not requirements, but suggestions.”
- And now, several implications that all parties involved are changing the way they do business going forward, even while though both sides are dug in about the disagreement over whether Flint should have maintained corrosion control all along…
- “MDEQ and the Region were in agreement that it is important to get phosphate addition going in Flint as soon as possible.” Phosphate addition is a form of corrosion control. Finally, with this, there is an admission by all parties that they’ve got to deal with corrosion control in the Flint water system, regardless of the regulations disagreement. But as events will unfold, this step obviously is way too little, way too late.
- “Region 5 commented that we now have a path forward for Flint despite a difference of opinion on whether the regulations required Flint to ‘maintain’ corrosion control when they started serving treated water from the Flint River.”
- And an admission from MDEQ, that despite not requiring corrosion control in the switch to Flint River water, they are going to require corrosion control from the start when the switch back to KWA/Lake Huron water eventually happens in 2016… “MDEQ and Region 5 agreed that after Flint implements corrosion control treatment, when they switch back to Lake Huron water, they will need to continue the corrosion control treatment while conducting monitoring to determine if this treatment is optimized with the new Lake Huron water quality.”
- “Region 5 will get back to MDEQ once it gets HQ/OGS’s opinion on the need to ‘maintain’ corrosion control treatment once a system is deemed optimized.” (Truth Squad Note: The opinion eventually comes out in November in a new nationwide order declaring that corrosion control needs to happen from the start of any major water source switch.)
August 10, 2015: EPA pushes DEQ to move faster on corrosion control… Email from Thomas Poy (EPA) to Shekter Smith, Steve Busch and others at MDEQ… “Liane: Any news on Flint since our call a couple weeks ago? Has the letter been sent to inform them that they are not optimized for lead based on their monitoring? Have they been approached about starting corrosion control sooner rather than later?” The next MDEQ action documented in publicly released email records doesn’t happen for another week.
August 17, 2015: MDEQ advises Flint of the second six-month lead/copper monitoring results and finally orders optimized corrosion control. But the timeline outlined by MDEQ gives Flint two years to implement the anti-corrosion measures. And an email from Stephen Busch (MDEQ) to Brad Wurfel (MDEQ) seems to continue to downplay the urgency and instead favor a long grind of hewing to interpretation of government regulations: “As there has been much interest regarding lead related to Flint drinking water, I have attached our latest letter which covers the most recent January–June 2015 monitoring period. The City is in compliance with the 15 part per billion action level for lead. Yet based on these results, the treatment cannot be deemed to provide fully optimized corrosion control treatment, and the City will need to recommend additional treatment to achieve this optimization under the Lead and Copper rule requirements established under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.”
August 23, 2015: Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards notifies MDEQ that he will begin an independent study of Flint water quality. The Virginia Tech study will prove to be a major breakthrough to fully and scientifically document a serious public health threat from lead in Flint’s drinking water. Very soon, the fears of EPA’s Miguel Del Toral will be fully realized.
August 24, 2015: MDEQ’s Liane Shekter Smith sends an email to MDEQ’s Brad Wurfel outlining a draft email to Flint resident LeeAnn Walters, whose high drinking water lead levels earlier in the year sparked Miguel Del Toral’s sounding of alarm bells at the EPA. The Shekter Smith email indicates that Ms. Walters had a meeting in the governor’s office on August 4. Key points Shekter Smith indicates she intends to make to Walters:
- “As indicated during the meeting, the City’s sampling for lead complies with the Action Level standard of 15 parts per billion, but… the City will need to make a recommendation to the MDEQ on how they will fully optimize their corrosion control treatment.”
- “Samples collected at your residence of 212 Browning Avenue were not included in this compliance determination as you utilize a whole home filter.” But DEQ confirmed very high lead levels, as high as 707 parts per billion in the spring, before the water main serving that residence was replaced and the situation improved.
- “…. (O)ur office has been in contact with the Department of Health and Human Services…. And had some preliminary discussions about a public education and assistance campaign regarding household lead issues, guidance and abatement.”
(Truth Squad Note: State email records indicate the memo from Shekter Smith to Walters is emailed in late August. Virginia Tech University professor and water expert Marc Edwards later claims that Walters never actually receives the email.)
August 27, 2015: Virginia Tech’s Edwards releases his first preliminary analysis of Flint tap water test results and deems those results “worrisome.” More than half of the first 48 samples are above 5 parts per billion lead and 30 percent of those collected exceeded 15 parts per billion.
August 27, 2015: More deflection from MDEQ after more questions from the governor’s office. Mike Brown, the governor’s senior federal policy representative, emails MDEQ's Brad Wurfel after apparently getting an inquiry from U.S. Senator Gary Peters's office. Wurfel appears to share the Shekter Smith report to LeeAnne Walters regarding the leaded water in her Flint home. Wurfel appears to refer to Walters as “a very vocal resident.” Brown inquires: “So this resident’s lead levels are much higher than the 90th percentile mentioned in the previous email. What is the discrepancy?”
Wurfel responds to Brown: “Don’t know what it is, but I know what it’s not. The key to lead and copper in drinking water is that it’s not the source water, or even the transmission lines (most of which are cast iron). It’s in the premise plumbing (people's homes)."
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: This assertion proves to be very wrong a few weeks later, in early October, when Flint Department of Public Works officials tell MLive.com that many city pipes have the possibility of leaching lead, but the city can’t immediately get its finger on the issue because the info is stored on 45,000 paper index cards. And Hurley Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha eventually asserts in a peer-reviewed and published medical journal article that between 10 and 80 percent of city lines leach lead.)
Wurfel also then citesfederal regulations for the slow pace of response as MDEQ orders Flint to finally attain, over the next couple of years, optimized corrosion control. “Such is the wisdom and flexibility of the federal statute.”
Wurfel then appears to mention EPA’s Del Toral, without mentioning him by name, to Brown: “This person is the one who had EPA lead specialist come to her home and do tests, then released an unvetted draft of his report (that EPA apologized to us profusely for) to the resident, who shared it with ACLU, who promptly used it to continue raising hell with the locals.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: In other words, the inquiring Snyder aide can be left with the horribly misguided impression that Del Toral is wrong, LeeAnne Walters is wrong, ACLU is wrong, it’s all a bunch of hell raising, MDEQ is right, and there’s nothing to worry about.
Wurfel continues: “Bottom line is that folks in Flint are upset – because they pay a ton for water and many of them don’t trust the water they’re getting – and they’re confused, in no small part because various groups have worked hard at keeping them confused and upset. We get it. The state is trying like mad (to) get the word out that we’re working on every aspect of the health safety of local water that we can manage, and the system needs a lot of work… (I)t’s been rough sledding with a steady parade of community groups keeping everyone hopped-up and misinformed.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: As would become tragically clear by the end of the year, the real and worst confusion was not among local Flint residents. It was within MDEQ and MDHHS. And, over the next several months, the real action to bring urgency and protect the Flint public came not from those state agencies. It came from the kind of 'outside agitators' Wurfel scorns.)
August 28, 2015: Email from Thomas Poy (EPA) to Shekter Smith and others at DEQ… “Marc Edwards (Virginia Tech) is working with some of the citizens in Flint and they are finding lead at levels above five parts per billion and some above 15 parts per billion. There’s no indication of whether any of these homes were also sampled and analyzed by Flint and will now be part of their compliance calculations. Virginia Tech sent out 300 bottles and have gotten 48 back. We are not involved in this effort by Dr. Edwards.”
August 31, 2015: Virginia Tech is up to 72 total lead samples tested, with 42 percent above 5 parts per billion and 20 percent exceeding 15 parts per billion.
August 31, 2015: Email from Brad Wurfel (DEQ) to Stephen Busch, Liane Shekter Smith, Mike Prysby (all at DEQ) and DEQ Director Dan Wyant. With the following five key Snyder aides copied: Dennis Muchmore (chief of staff); Harvey Hollins (director of the Office of Urban Initiatives); Dave Murray (deputy press secretary); Eric Brown (senior federal policy representative), and Sara Wurfel (Snyder's press secretary, and Brad Wurfel's wife).
Brad Wurfel writes: “…just got this from the ACLU. Call me if you have questions/counsel.”
The rest is an email forwarded from Curt Guyette at ACLU-Michigan, asking Brad Wurfel to respond to Virginia Tech’s growing evidence of lead in Flint tap water.
Steve Busch at DEQ responds to Brad Wurfel's urgent email: “Brad, we are aware of the VT professor. I can bring you up to speed this afternoon or whenever you are available.”
Busch forwards another email to Wurfel. This email is marked “High” priority and comes from Jennifer Crooks at EPA to Shekter Smith, Busch and others at MDEQ: “Today’s updates on Marc Edwards’ site. His staff is phone calling and emailing results to citizens. Talk at 2.”
September 2, 2015: “Virginia Tech researcher claims that the corrosiveness of the Flint River water is causing lead to leach into residents’ water.” (As reported in December 2015 Michigan Auditor General timeline.) The Virginia Tech revelations are much worse than that… The full report, published on FlintWaterStudy.org on September 11, declares:
- “On average, Detroit water is 19 times less corrosive than the Flint River water currently in use.”
- “There is slight improvement, but even with phosphate, Flint River water has 16 times more lead compared to the same condition using Detroit water.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: In other words, even with common anti-corrosion treatments, Edwards concludes Flint River water would be a potentially dangerous source for drinking. This begs fundamental questions… Why did it take a Virginia Tech researcher to run these tests a year and a half after the switch to Flint River water? Why didn’t the Flint Department of Public Works, MDEQ, or third-party engineers who studied the Flint water system connect these corrosion dots before the switch?
In January 2016 Gov. Snyder would apologize to the people of Flint. He would take responsibility for what he acknowledged were failures of government at all levels. His political legacy is undoubtedly and deeply stained forever by the crisis. He and his administration now face numerous forms of official investigation and surely many legal claims that will take a long time to adjudicate. The extent of the governor’s personal culpability - and the pace of response by the governor and his key aides - will surely be key questions in the investigations.
Yet Edwards’ fairly basic Flint corrosion and lead discoveries, MDEQ’s many failures, and MDHHS’s delays in seeing a lead connection in Flint children also bring legitimacy to questions the governor himself raised about front-line state agency incompetence in a January 2016 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. Snyder asserted the department heads he appointed “were not being given the right information by quote-unquote experts… I use that word with great trial and tribulation because they were considered experts in terms of their backgrounds.” At many turns, those so-called state experts failed. Another fundamental question going forward… Can the rest of Michigan’s residents trust state experts, and elected officials, to protect statewide public drinking water supplies going forward?)
September 2, 2015: Snyder adviser Harvey Hollins emails the governor to inform that 1,500 kitchen water filters were donated, and coordinated by the administration, to the Flint Concerned Pastors for Social Action organization “as a way of providing added comfort amid concerns about Flint’s water quality.”
September 2, 2015: MDEQ's Brad Wurfel responds to Virginia Tech revelations with more deflection and denials in a press release emailed to MLive.com reporter Ron Fonger. Key points:
- “(W)e want to be very clear that the lead levels being detected in Flint drinking water are not coming from the treatment plant or the city’s transmission lines… The issue is how, or whether, and to what extent the drinking water is interacting with lead plumbing in people’s homes.”
- “The results reported so far fail to track with any of the lead sampling conducted by the city. In addition, Virginia Tech results are not reflected by the blood lead level testing regularly conducted by the state department of community health that have not shown any change since Flint switched sources.”
September 3, 2015: Email from Flint Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft to numerous state and local officials, including Flint Mayor Dayne Walling:
- “I am pleased to report that the City of Flint has officially returned to compliance with the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act and we have received confirming documentation from the DEQ today.”
- “Recent testing has raised questions regarding the amount of lead that is being found in the water and I wanted to report to you our current status. At the onset of our plant design, optimization for lead was addressed and discussed with the engineering firm and with the DEQ. It was determined that having more data was advisable prior to the commitment of a specific optimization method. Most chemicals used in this process are phosphate based and phosphate can be a ‘food’ for bacteria. We have performed over one hundred and sixty lead tests throughout the city since switching over to the Flint River and remain within EPA standards.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Perhaps at this point Croft doesn’t know what will soon become public, including these revelations: 1) Investigators will determine that the city’s sampling methods were flawed – the city couldn’t confirm it was testing high-risk lead homes; 2) EPA would ultimately, but slowly, reach the forceful conclusion that MDEQ’s decision to not use corrosion control at the time of the water source switch was completely wrong, and 3) Controversy had long brewed between MDEQ and EPA over the state's practice of pre-flushing home water lines before Flint lead samples were taken.)
September 6, 2015: Another DEQ denial in a quote from Brad Wurfel aired/published by Michigan Public Radio regarding the Virginia Tech lead testing results: “The samples don’t match the testing that we’ve been doing in the same kind of neighborhoods all over the city for the past year. With these kinds of numbers, we would have expected to be seeing a spike somewhere else in the other lead monitoring that goes on in the community.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Hurley Medical Center Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha would soon prove the kind of lead-in-blood spike that MDHHS and MDEQ continue todeny exists.)
September 8, 2015: Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards publishes full results to date of his Flint water testing. Key points:
- “FLINT HAS A VERY SERIOUS LEAD IN WATER PROBLEM.” (No Truth Squad emphasis added.)
- “Forty percent of the first draw samples are over five parts per billion. That is, 101 out of 252 water samples from Flint homes had first draw lead more than 5 ppb.”
- “Flint’s 90th percentile lead value is 25 parts per billion in our survey… This is over the EPA allowed level of 15 ppb that is applied to high risk homes. This is a serious concern indeed… Another mystery which must be examined very carefully in the days and weeks ahead: How is it possible that Flint ‘passed’ the official EPA Lead and Copper Rule sampling overseen by MDEQ?”
- “Several samples exceeded 100 ppb and one sample collected after 45 seconds of flushing exceeded 1,000 ppb.”
- “Until further notice, we recommend that Flint tap water be only used for cooking or drinking if one of the following steps are implemented…” Those recommended steps included filtering and/or five-minute flushing at a high flow rate every time a Flint water tap is used.
September 8, 2015: Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards sounds yet another alarm in email to Mayor Dayne Walling, who had requested to meet with Edwards.
- Edwards writes: “Had MDEQ studied the scientific validity of the points Mr. Del Toral was making months ago, and acted on that information, Flint residents would have been informed about the high lead in water risk at that time. Months of harmful exposures to this neurotoxin could have been avoided. Instead, MDEQ openly attempted to discredit and smear Mr. Del Toral to Flint residents – the residents told me this directly…. Frankly, I feel that MDEQ’s action in this regard, is not consistent with its mission of upholding the public welfare. In large part because it was clear that MDEQ was behaving in an unscientific and regretful manner in relation to Mr. Del Toral’s work, a 16 person team at Virginia Tech decided to launch the Flint water study, to take an unbiased look at this urgent public health issue on behalf of Flint consumers.”
- Walling responds in email a day later, and tells Edwards he thought the July apology to him by EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman and ongoing internal review of Del Toral’s June 24 draft memo at EPA was “part of the customary organizational process.”
- Edwards responds: “I understand how you could have been misled. All I can tell you, is that from a scientific and engineering perspective, everything in Mr. Del Toral’s memo was 100 percent accurate…. I am sorry that MDEQ did not take his memo seriously, and that they did not cause the City of Flint to consider corrosion control from the start of this process. It was their job to do so. I have no idea what MDEQ’s agenda is, but based on their press releases and actions to date, protecting the public and following Federal laws, does not seem to be a priority… If you want to protect consumers in your city, you should start listening directly to Mr. Del Toral.”
September 9, 2015: Email from Brad Wurfel (MDEQ) to Ron Fonger at MLive questions Marc Edwards’ conclusions:
- “(T)he state DEQ is just as perplexed by Edwards’ results as he seems to be by the city’s test results, which are done according to state and federal sampling guidelines and analyzed by certified labs.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: This reasoning does not include such important things as: 1) Del Toral’s longstanding concerns about the sampling methods in Flint; and, 2) The fact that the number of lead samples in Flint actually decreased after Del Toral first made his lead concerns known to MDEQ, with state approval, from 100 in the first six-month test to 60 in the second six-month test. Later, investigators conclude that the city’s sampling procedures were flawed. Ultimately, in January 2016, the EPA announces it will take over lead sampling and monitoring in Flint.)
- Wurfel further reasons that the Virginia Tech researchers “only just arrived in town and (have) quickly proven the theory they set out to prove, and while the state appreciates academic participation in this discussion, offering broad, dire public health advice based on some quick testing could be seen as fanning political flames irresponsibly.”
- “The state and the EPA are working together in Flint…”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Of course, this assertion completely ignores the controversy and explicit Del Toral warnings over corrosion control and sampling methods that has long brewed between EPA and DEQ.)
September 9, 2015: Email from Michelle Bruneau (a health educator in the MDHHS Toxicology and Response Section) to Kory Groetsch (MDHHS manager for Toxicology and Response)… Subject line: “Flint Lead is blowing up – may want to push meeting if we’re going to do something.” The email links to Michigan Radio coverage and MLive coverage of Virginia Tech’s testing results.
September 10 thru September 25: Some moments of seeming disbelief on the part of a national lead and copper rule expert connected with EPA as she seeks details from MDEQ about Flint’s water quality parameters.
- September 10 email from Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou to MDEQ’s Brad Wurfel and Stephen Busch: “As a member of the EPA National Drinking Water Advisory Council Lead and Copper Rule workgroup that just completed its recommendations to EPA about the agency’s upcoming revisions to the LCR, I am watching with great interest and concern the developments in Flint in relation to lead. I am looking for information on the optimal water quality parameter ranges that MDEQ has set for Flint’s water. Are those posted online? If so, could you send me the link? If not, could you let me know where they are?
- September 14 response from DEQ’s Busch: “Dr. Lambrinidou, All previous water quality parameter ranges would have been established for the City of Flint’s wholesale finished water supplier, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, not the City of Flint itself. As the City of Flint has not yet established optimized corrosion control treatment, the MDEQ is not yet at the point of regulatory requirements where the range of water quality parameters would be set.”
(MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: A clear admission: DEQ let Flint switch drinking water sources to the Flint River without establishing water quality parameters.)
- September 16 response from Lambrinidou: “Dear Mr. Busch, Thank you for your quick response. I appreciate the information at, I am sure, a very busy time for you and the MDEQ. Could you please help me understand the following? … (D)o you mean that MDEQ never set optimal water quality parameter ranges specifically for Flint before Flint’s switch to Flint River water? It is my impression, please correct me if I’m wrong, that under the LCR, all large systems – whether they are consecutive or not – must have optimal water quality parameter ranges designated by states specifically for them (at the time when these systems are deemed to have optimized their treatment). Is there language in the LCR I am missing that allows a utility not to have optimal quality parameter ranges established specifically for it? My second question is this: If the City of Flint had no optimal water quality parameter ranges established specifically for it in the past, how did it achieve LCR compliance? Isn’t it the case that utility-specific optimal water quality parameter ranges (and maintenance of these ranges) are required for all large systems to avoid an LCR violation? I would appreciate your assistance on this matter, as it will shed light on an issue that seems to be very important for EPA’s assessment of and upcoming revisions to the LCR.”
- September 25 - Busch responds to Lambrinidou: “… a WQP range is only required to be established at the water treatment plant tap after the system has demonstrated optimized corrosion control treatment…. As the City of Flint water treatment plant has not yet installed such treatment or been given the designation of optimized corrosion control treatment these plant tap values have not been established.”
September 10, 2015: Email from MDHSS health educator Michelle Bruneau to colleague Kory Groestch, apparently to discuss public relations talking points: “Edited version attached. It may be a good time to float the draft out to the others because if we’re going to take action it needs to be soon before the Virginia Tech University folks scandalize us all.”
September 10, 2015: Email from Jennifer Crooks (EPA) to Liane Shekter Smith (DEQ) with others at both agencies copied… Confirming notes of an August 31 conference call between DEQ/EPA. Key points:
- EPA’s Tom Poy notes in the meeting that Virginia Tech’s results “give further evidence that lead levels in Flint are trending upward” as seen in the two most recent six month testing periods (first one was six parts per billion, second was nearly doubled to 11 parts per billion).
- The Virginia Tech testing “is putting added pressure on MDEQ, and EPA to ensure that Flint addresses their lack of optimized corrosion control treatment in an expedited manner in order to protect the residents from exposure to high lead levels.”
- “EPA acknowledged that to delay installation of corrosion control treatment in Flint would likely cause even higher levels of lead over time as Flint’s many lead service lines are continuously in contact with corrosive water.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: So here we have it… Clear acknowledgement by other EPA officials of what lone EPA regulator Miguel Del Toral surmised months earlier. It is important to note this meeting occurs on August 31. Yet MDEQ deflections and denials continue into September.)
The action plan arising out of the August 31 conference call includes: 1) general public information for Flint residents about lead (but nothing rising anything close to the “don’t drink the water” warnings soon issued by Genesee County officials; 2) Pushing forward on corrosion control in Flint; 3) Offering Flint free help from EPA experts to deal with corrosion control; and, 4) something called “laying the groundwork for MDEQ/EPA Collaboration with Flint” with the note that “although Flint (using their consultant) bears the ultimate responsibility for designing and installing corrosion control, MDEQ and EPA experts are willing and able to provide advice throughout the process.
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: We can’t help but ask, as we suspect many others will ask: Why didn’t this discussion occur before spring 2014 when Flint was preparing to make the switch to Flint River water?)
September 10: DEQ Director Dan Wyant receives an investigatory inquiry by email from Flint-area state legislators Jim Ananich, Sheldon Neely, and Phil Phelps. The inquiry is only partly displayed in publicly available email records. The letter opens as follows:
In light of recently released findings by the American Civil Liberties Union, independent researchers, and a troubling interim U.S. Environmental Protection Agency memo from June, we are requesting additional answers about the safety and treatment of the City of Flint’s water.
Several disturbing points have been raised and we have a number of urgent questions, including:
When did the MDEQ become aware of the June 24, 2015 Interim EPA memo and whom was it shared with?
- Which Flint city officials also received this information?
- Why was the memo not immediately shared with the public?
- What response did MDEQ have to the EPA concerns raised in the memo?
- Were any actions taken by the MDEQ as a result of the issues mentioned in the memo?
- What steps, if any, were taken to determine the validity of the Virginia Tech study?
Wyant responds to the legislators in a letter dated September 17 which is only partly revealed in publicly available email records: “With respect to the draft memo referenced in your letter, the MDEQ does not review or receive draft memos from the USEPA, nor would we expect to while it is a draft.”
September 11, 2015: Email from Jennifer Crooks (EPA) to Thomas Poy (EPA), and Shekter Smith, Benzie, and Busch at MDEQ. The email is titled, simply, “Clarification” and may relate to Flint legislators’ investigative letter sent to Wyant the day before:
- Crooks writes: “Just to clarify; on our call, I wanted to remind you that Miguel’s report had DEQ cc.d. So if the Legislature or whoever might say you were all cc.d, you can truthfully respond that it was EPA’s request that the report not be sent to the cc.s. Consequently, you all never received the report from Miguel. Good to talk with you all. Jennifer.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: We can’t fault anyone here, most notably the inquiring Flint legislators, if they conclude MDEQ and EPA are engaging here in a disingenuous tap-dance of "hear no evil, speak no evil." At this point, Miguel Del Toral’s June 24 EPA draft memo has been widely disseminated in the public sphere for two months. Email correspondence makes clear that MDEQ officials are fully aware in early July that the June 24 memo is publicly available. But MDEQ Director Dan Wyant tells legislators his agency doesn’t review or receive draft EPA memos. And a high-ranking EPA official issues a “clarification” to numerous MDEQ staffers that – officially – they’ve never seen the draft memo.)
September 11, 2015: Virginia Tech’s Edwards publishes results of a laboratory experiment concluding that the Flint River is 19 times more corrosive than Detroit water. “On a scientific basis, Flint River water leaches more lead from plumbing than does Detroit water as predicted before. This is creating a public health threat in some Flint homes that have lead pipe or lead solder. Unfortunately, adding orthophosphate corrosion inhibitor to the Flint River water does not solve the lead problem…. We believe that in the weeks and months ahead MDEQ and Flint will be forced to admit they failed to protect public health as required under the Federal Lead and Copper Rule.” (Truth Squad Note: This prediction proves absolutely right.) Solutions Edwards recommends at the time: Admit that Flint water is unsafe for cooking and drinking. And return Flint to Detroit drinking water.
September 11, 2015: Tom Poy (EPA) drafts an email response to inquiries from Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee about the growing crisis in Flint:
- The June 24 memo was Del Toral’s “professional judgment based on the facts that Flint has not provided corrosion control treatment after switching source waters and that EPA sample results from some homes in Flint found high levels of lead.”
- But, Flint still isn’t at the action level for lead, and “Public notice is provided when the action level is exceeded.”
- “The compliance monitoring conducted by Flint also shows that they do not have optimized corrosion control and they should implement treatment as soon as possible.”
September 11, 2015:Email from Shekter Smith (MDEQ) to Linda Dykema and Kory Groestch at MDHHS: “Since we last spoke, there’s been an increase in the media regarding lead exposure. Any progress developing a proposal for a lead education campaign? We got a number of legislative inquiries that we are responding to. It would be helpful to have something more to say.” MDHHS’s Bruneau then responds to Groetsch two hours later with two words, “Told ya…” and a smiley face…. Groetsch then responds to Shekter Smith that Bruneau has written “the bones” of a health education and outreach plan and more discussion is needed.
September 11, 2015: As MDEQ’s top drinking water regulator seeks talking points, another staffer at MDHHS is beginning to see the rough outline of a bigger picture… Robert Scott, the data manager for the MDHHS Healthy Homes and Lead Prevention program, is copied on a Marc Edwards grant proposal to the National Science Foundation for funding for his Virginia Tech / Flint Water Study… Among other things, Edwards’s grant proposal describes a “perfect storm” of “out of control” corrosion of city water pipes leading to “severe chemical/biological health risks for Flint residents.” Scott forwards the grant proposal to MDHHS colleagues Nancy Peeler, Karen Lishinski, and Wesley Priem.
- Scott writes: “When you have a few minutes, you might want to take a look at it. Sounds like there might be more to this than what we learned previously. Yikes!”
September 15, 2015: Flint Mayor Dayne Walling wants $30 million in state funds for infrastructure and capital improvements to the city’s water and sewer system. The state Treasury Department responds by saying the money isn’t available outside of a legislative appropriation.
September 15, 2015: MLive publishes a report with the headline: “Virginia Tech professor says Flint’s tests for lead in water can’t be trusted.” Key points:
- “Professor Marc Edwards… said water flowing into homes and businesses in Flint is so corrosive that it’s eating into lead and lead solder in pipes.”
- “Edwards said Tuesday that the city’s results amount to ‘smoke and mirrors.’”
- “Among the problems Edwards claimed: The city never tested in areas known to be susceptible to high lead levels, never re-sampled homes in 2015 that were found to have high lead levels in 2014, and failed to notify residents when they did find problems with lead in the water of their homes.”
- City Administrator Natasha Henderson responds in the MLive report: “Testing was performed by the city of Flint using (EPA) and (MDEQ) approved procedures according to regulatory statute.”
- Edwards urges a return to Detroit water system: “Flint is the only city in America that I’m aware of that does not have a corrosion control plan in place to stop this kind of problem.”
September 17, 2015: Email from Susan Moran to numerous MDHHS colleagues: “FYI Front office also is asking about Flint water, let’s make sure we are communicating consistently. Copying Linda and Corrinne. While this is a public health concern, this is largely DEQ/local jurisdiction.” Corrinne Miller at MDHHS responds later same day… “Per the MDEQ, the compliance monitoring for lead within the city has never exceeded the EPA action level for lead.”
September 20, 2015: Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards alleges in email to EPA officials that Flint’s lead sampling techniques are seriously flawed. Key points:
- “They do not have an approved lead sampling pool. Only 13 of the lowest lead sampled homes from 2014 were resampled in 2015. The homes sampling high in 2014 were not asked to be resampled. At best, their program is sending out sampling bottles at random across the city.”
- “This message exemplifies the type of site selection that they are doing to satisfy their high risk LCR monitoring pool site. That is, none. They are not even trying to hide it. This link reveals this June alert from the Flint Department of Public Works:
I am writing everyone in regards to drinking water testing for lead & copper. The City needs assistance from residents to collect samples from their home. I believe I bothered everyone with a correspondence regarding this matter last year for our first sample round, but we are trying to finish up our second 6 month round of testing before the end of this month. If you live in the City or have family/friends who live in the city that would like to be part of the sampling group please contact me via email or call the water plant at (810)787-6537. Please forward this email to anyone who might be willing to participate.
Collecting a sample consists of letting the water sit stagnant in the pipes for 6 – 8 hours (usually overnight, or while at work/school/etc during the day) then filling a sample bottle and recording sampling and contact information on a form that is provided. Water Plant staff will deliver and pick up the sample bottle and accompanying form.
City of Flint
- Edwards’s email to EPA officials continues: “Furthermore, in a video now on the ACLU website, at the end of the interview, Mike Glasgow notes what is perfectly obvious from looking at the MDEQ FOIA materials. ‘We threw bottles out everywhere just to collect as many as we can, just to hit our number, and we just turn in every result we get in.’… On top of that, according to my count, MDEQ covered up no fewer than 5 violations in the 2015 sample round.” Additional information presented by Edwards included allegations of late reports, 87 sites from 2014 being not resampled, no written justification for site changes and… “In video Mike admits he has no knowledge of what sites actually have lead pipe or not.”
September 22, 2015: Email from MDHHS Environmental Public Health Director Lynda D. Dykema, PhD, to MDHHS colleagues Geralyn Lasher (MDHHS deputy director for external relations and communications) Nancy Peeler, and numerous others: “Here is a link to the VA Tech study re city of Flint drinking water… It appears that the researchers have completed testing of a lot of water samples and the results are significantly different than the city and DEQ data. It also appears that they’ve held public meetings in Flint, resulting in concerns about the safety of the water that have arisen in the last few days.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Eleven days after Virginia Tech’s Edwards publishes his full Flint lead sampling results, MDHHS officials are finally grappling with the alarming findings in email correspondence.)
September 22, 2015: Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha requests from Robert Scott and others at MDHHS full state records on blood tests to supplement her own Flint blood-lead research. The doctor says: “…since we have been unable to obtain recent MCIR blood lead data for Flint kids in response to the lead in water concerns, we looked at all the blood lead levels that were processed through Hurley Medical Center…” and describes "striking results." (Truth Squad Note: Hurley is a major hospital in Flint.)
September 22, 2015: Email meeting notice from Kory Groetsch at MDHHS regarding a lead-related conference call among MDHHS, MDEQ, and Genesee County health officials. One of the agenda items for the meeting is…. “Current status of resources to put toward desired efforts (i.e., Who has time to do what? AKA – reality check.")
September 23, 2015: A day before Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha releases a major study concluding Flint has a serious problem with children with elevated blood lead levels, ongoing questions prompt some reconsideration by Nancy Peeler, program director of the MDHHS program for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting. Two months earlier, MDHHS had noted they’d seen elevated lead-blood levels in Flint in summer 2014, but quickly concluded they saw no real relation to Flint water. Now Peeler’s second-guessing herself, as noted in this email “Based on questions coming through, I do think we need to run our Flint charts for the same population group that the Flint docs ran (as close as we can approximate the sample) but I’d look at it across the five years again. Depending on what our charts show, we may want to consider having (state epidemiologists) help us run an analysis more like the docs ran – but let’s look at the revised charts as a starting point.”
September 23, 2015: Email from Mikelle Robinson at MDHHS to colleagues describing a briefing being put together for the governor’s office on the Flint situation: “The DEQ... gave a long summary about the Flint water issues…. bottom line is that the water itself is safe but they have an old water treatment plan and old cast iron pipes that haven’t been upgraded in more than 40 years…. Flint is not in violation of the lead standards… DEQ briefed the mayor and some legislators on Monday on the situation... Flint’s water supply is not an imminent public health problem but a public confidence problem due to the many groups getting involved and controversial reports/media coverage on it.”
September 24, 2015, 10:26 a.m.: MDHHS Deputy Director Geralyn Lasher emails to MDHHS Director Nick Lyon and numerous other MDHHS staffers and managers… She had “just gotten off the phone with Nancy Peeler and Bob Scott and are putting together talking points about this ‘study’ that the physicians will be discussing that claims an increase in elevated blood levels in children since the change to the water system source.”
September 24, 2015: 1:16 p.m.: Angela Minicuci at MDHSS distributes “Flint Talking Points” in advance of a planned press conference by Hurley Medical Center and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. Key points:
- Hurley results are “under review” by MDHHS.
- Hurley’s analysis is “different” than the way MDHHS does it.
- The implication is that the state’s way of doing it is better.. “Looking at the past five years as a whole provides a much more accurate look at the seasonal trends of lead in the area.” And… “MDHHS data provides a much more robust picture of the entire blood lead levels for the Flint area.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: As we pointed out above during MDHHS’s internal analysis of lead data earlier in the summer, by the end of the year the governor’s office would acknowledge significant weaknesses in MDHHS’s data analysis. Again, as the governor’s communications director, Meegan Holland, stated in December 22, 2015 talking points for the governor: “It wasn’t until the Hurley report came out that our epidemiologists took a more in-depth look at the data by zip code, controlling for seasonal variation, and confirmed an increase outside of normal trends. As a result of this process, we have determined that the way we analyze data collected needs to be thoroughly reviewed.”)
September 24, 2015, 1:56 p.m.: Snyder Deputy Press Secretary Dave Murray emails more than a dozen state officials, including Muchmore (then-chief of staff), Jerrod Agen (the governor’s future chief of staff), Lasher, and Brad Wurfel at MDEQ: “Team, Here’s the data that will be presented at the Hurley Hospital press conference at 3 p.m. As you’ll see, they are pointing to individual children, a very emotional approach. Our challenge will be to show how our state data is different from what the hospital and the coalition members are presenting today.”
September 24, 2015: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha releases a groundbreaking study of elevated blood-lead levels in Flint children at a press conference. MLive reports the news in a story posted at 2:09 p.m. Key points:
- “The data show that the percentage of Flint infants and children with above average lead levels has nearly doubled citywide, and has nearly tripled among children in ‘high risk’ areas of lead exposure.”
- The study recommends ending Flint River water as its drinking source “as soon as possible.”
- The study recommends that the city declare a health advisory that could trigger additional resources from the federal government.
September 24, 2015, 3:14 p.m.: As Dr. Hanna-Attisha releases her results, a MDHHS staffer scoffs. Email from Wesley Priem, manager of the MDHHS Healthy Homes Section, to colleague Kory Groetsch: “Yes, the issue is moving… at the speed of rushing water… I am trying to keep everyone updated… I am also trying at this minute to watch the teleconference on MLive… But not having much success… This is definitely being driven by a little science and a lot of politics.”… Three minutes later, Groetsch responds… “Best of luck.”
September 24, 2015, 3:45 p.m.: MDHHS lead data manager Robert Scott emails colleague Nancy Peeler with a new discovery. He attaches a spreadsheet to the email, says he has attempted to “recreate Hurley’s numbers,” and says he sees “a difference between the two years (presumably pre- and post-water switch), but not as much difference as (Hurley) did.” In other words, in attempting to replicate Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s methodology, he’s beginning to see something somewhat similar to what the Hurley doctor has found. Scott also notes in the email to Peeler: “I’m sure this one is not for the public.”
September 24, 2015: Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards presses hard on Robert Scott at MDHHS for state blood-lead records. In email to Scott, Edwards says Hurley researchers have been unable to get access to the records…. Edwards then asks: “Can you tell me why it is so difficult to get this data, and why your agency is raising so many obstacles to sharing it with everyone who asks?... I have to say, it is very disturbing that the state keeps issuing these blood lead reports and statements in their press releases, and refuses to share the data backing them up with outside researchers… I note that I have been asking to see your data since MDEQ first sent it to reporters back in August, and I count 10 email that I sent responding to all your questions. As of yet, you have given me nothing in response.”
Scott drafts an email response a day later:
- “As you well now, the data you and Dr Hanna-Attisha are requesting are derived from personal health data, which of course is confidential… I worked with you earlier this month to get data to you relatively quickly but did not manage to complete the process before I went on annual leave for several days. I neglected to inform you that I’d be away, and I apologize for not informing you.”
- But Scott doesn’t send the email. He sends it to colleague Peeler for review. Peeler tells Scott to “apologize less” in his letter, and is further focused on image protection: “The email you received could be read as an intent to escalate and spin things, and I don’t think you need to get caught up in that.”
- Scott writes back to Peeler: “I agree that his statements are inappropriate; there are plenty of things I’d LIKE to say in response, but won’t.”
September 25, 2015: A day after Dr. Hanna-Attisha releases her study, the City of Flint issues a health advisory, telling residents to flush pipes and install filters to prevent lead poisoning.
September 25, 2015, 1:19 p.m.: MDHHS’s Robert Scott responds to email from colleagues about Detroit Free Press interest in doing a lead story. At 12:16 p.m., Free Press reporter Kristi Tanner sends an email to Angela Minicuci at MDHHS saying Tanner had looked at the lead increase in Flint as shown in DHS records between 2013-2014 and 2-14-2015 and Tanner is concluding that the increase “is statistically significant.” MDHHS’s Peeler tasks Robert Scott with responding.
- Scott writes to Minicuci: “The best I could say is something like this: ‘While the trend for Michigan as a whole has shown a steady decrease in lead poisoning year by year, smaller areas such as the city of Flint have their bumps from year to year while still trending downward overall.'”
- Peeler appears to be looking for a positive media spin, too. She writes back to Scott and Minicuci: “My secret hope is that we can work in the fact that this pattern is similar to the recent past.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: This attempted media spin completely ignores what Scott had told Peeler in email the previous afternoon. He’d crunched numbers and replicated something somewhat similar to the results of the Hurley lead study. Then again, as Scott had opined in his email to Peeler the previous afternoon, “I’m sure this one is not for the public.”)
September 25, 2015: Again, a day after telling Nancy Peeler he has begun to roughly approximate Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s Flint lead test results, Robert Scott makes no such acknowledgement in an email exchange directly with Dr. Hanna-Attisha.
- At 3:12 p.m. on the 25th, Dr. Hanna-Attisha writes to Scott: “Bob, did you ever look at your data that was released for kids less than 5, rather than 16? 16 seems so strange – we rarely do lead levels in kids over the age of 5.”
- At 3:45 Scott responds: “No, I didn’t run the data for kids 0-5. We normally would use that age range, and I don’t completely recall the conversation that led to using 0-15 - possibly trying to cast as wide a nest as possible?” In Scott’s email to Peeler the day before, he asked Peeler to “Let me know if you think it’s worth pursuing any farther.” Publicly available emails do not suggest he asked the same question of the lead researcher on the Hurley study just one day later.
September 25, 2015: Email from Snyder Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore to Snyder and others in Snyder’s office. Rather than rallying full resources to the rising crisis, the email is mainly a political analysis:
“The issue of Flint water and its quality continues to be a challenging topic. The switch over to use Flint River water has spurred most of the controversy and contention. The DEQ and (MDHHS) feel that some in Flint are taking the very sensitive issue of children’s exposure to lead and trying to turn it into a political football claiming the departments are underestimating the impacts on the populations and are particularly trying to shift responsibility to the state. We have put an incredible amount of time and effort into this issue because of the impacted neighborhoods and their children, and the KWA/DWSD controversy and Dillon’s involvement in the final decision. [Democratic Congressman Dan] Kildee is asking for a call with you. That’s tricky because he’s sure to use it publicly, but if you don’t talk with him it will just fan the narrative that the state is ducking responsibility. I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject. The real responsibility rests with the County, city, and KWA, but since the issue is the health of citizens and their children we’re taking a pro-active approach putting (MDHHS) out there as an educator. I’m not sure how much background you need on all this so I don’t want to flood you with stuff. Jarrod and Dave have a lot of info that we can supplement your understanding and we can put a briefing or face to face with [DEQ Director Dan] Wyant and [MDHHS Director Nick] Lyon if you want to go there.”
September 25, 2015: Detroit Free Press publishes a report about Hanna-Attisha’s revelations and quotes MDEQ’s Brad Wurfel with yet another defense/deflection: “We’re confident with what we’ve done, but we know there are concerns.”
September 25, 2015: “High Importance” emails are now circulating within MDHHS. Rashmi Travis forwards a PowerPoint related to Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s study to Marc Miller. Miller sends it on to Linda Dykema and Wesley Priem and cautions: “FYI… Don’t distribute too broadly.” Dykema responds, “It would appear that the Hurley physicians are looking just at younger children, rather than 0-16” as did previous MDHHS analyses of the Flint lead situation.
September 25, 2015: Allison Scott, executive director to the governor, sends an email to the governor and key Snyder Administration staff. The email suggests the governor’s concerns are clearly heightening. Key points:
“Governor spoke with (State Senator Jim) Ananich this afternoon. He would like to do a call Monday morning with Dennis [Muchmore] and Dan Wyant to get latest and greatest information on this topic. After that will be some combination of he and Wyant speaking with Ananich. Any material on this topic please share over the weekend.”
September 25, 2015: Flint issues a lead advisory. “The City of Flint is issuing a Lead Advisory for residents to be aware of lead levels in drinking water after hearing concerns from the medical community. While the city is in full compliance with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, this information is being shared as part of a public awareness campaign to ensure that everyone takes note that no level of lead is considered safe.”
September 25, 2015: Email from MDHHS Deputy Director Geralyn Lasher to Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore, MDEQ Director Dan Wyant, MDEQ Director of Communications Brad Wurfel and others. The email offers continued state agency skepticism of increased lead levels due to Flint water. Key points:
- “MDHHS epidemiologists continue to review the ‘data’ provided by a Hurley Hospital physician that showed an increase in lead activity following the change in water supply. While we continue to review this data, we have stated publicly that Hurley conducted their analysis in a much different way than we do at the department. Hurley used two partial years of data, MDHHS looked at five comprehensive years and saw no increase outside the normal seasonal increases. The Hurley review was also a much smaller sample than MDHHS data as ours includes all hospital systems in Flint as well as outside laboratories.”
- “We have also provided the attached data chart that outlines if the elevated blood lead levels were being driven by change in water, we would have seen the elevated levels remain high after the change in water source.”
- The MDHHS charts further question the assertion of elevated lead levels being due to the Flint water change. Lead paint is another cause of elevated lead levels, with data suggesting routine elevations in warmer months due to more lead paint chips/dust being in the air. The charts suggested lead levels “remained fairly steady” over the past five years, including before and after the water shift… “If elevated blood levels were being driven by the change in water, we would expect to see the elevated levels remain high after the change in water source, rather than follow the seasonal pattern as they did by decreasing in the fall months.”
September 25, 2015: While Lasher tells the governor’s chief of staff and others top officials that MDHHS continues to review the Flint doctor’s “data,” there’s a flurry of emails the same day within the MDHHS with several people seemingly not sure what to do…
- MDHHS’s Sarah Lyon-Callo emails the coverage of Dr. Attisha’s announcement to several colleagues.
- Linda Dykema responds… “Do we have a copy of the doctor’s Flint study?”
- Lyon-Callo responds: “Just the powerpoint online, which I can’t download.”
- Despite growing media attention and many Flint residents bordering on panic, there’s not exactly a sense of urgency among all MDHHS employees now involved. At 5:33 p.m. on that Friday afternoon, MDHHS employee Cristin Larder emails colleagues Angela Minicuci, Sara Lyon-Callo and Patricia McKane: “After looking at the data Kristi send you and talking with Sarah, I realize I do not have access to the data I need to answer her specific question about significance. I won’t be able to get access before Monday. Sorry I wasn’t able to be helpful right now.” Angela Minicuci responds. “Not a problem. Let’s connect on Monday.”
Saturday, September 26, 2015: Email from Snyder Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore to the governor and other key staffers. More politics.
- “[Flint Congressman Dan] Kildee is engaged in his normal press hound routine, which is unfortunate because he’s a really smart, talented guy who needs to roll up his sleeves while (State Senator Jim) Ananich is looking for relief but doesn’t know where it would come from and is as usual a positive force. Frankly, I think both know that (Flint Mayor Dayne)Walling went out on CYA effort due to the election, but of course can’t say so. Neither has any idea where his $30M figure came from, or where we would get it even if you were so inclined.”
- “The water certainly has occasional less than savory aspects like color because of the apparently more corrosive aspects of the hard water coming from the river, but that has died down with the additional main filters. Taste and smell have been problems also and substantial money has been extended to work on those issues.”
- “Now we have the anti everything group turning to the lead content which is a concern for everyone, but DEQ and DHHS and EPA can’t find evidence of a major change per Geralyn’s memo below. Of course, some of the Flint people respond by looking for someone to blame instead of working to reduce anxiety. We can’t tolerate increased lead levels in any event, but it’s really the city’s water system that needs to deal with it. We’re throwing as much assistance as possible at the lead problem as regardless of what the levels, explanations or proposed solutions, the residents and particularly the poor need help to deal with it.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: The governor’s chief of staff is clearly hearing the explanations of the state agencies (MDEQ and MDHHS) charged with protecting drinking water and public health. But he’s apparently not hearing Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards and Dr. Hanna-Attisha. As events continue to unfold in coming weeks, it will become clear that Dennis Muchmore is hearing the wrong people when he writes these words in late September.)
- Muchmore continues: “It seems that continuing to find funds to buy local residents home filters is really a viable option and Harvey and all are pursuing more assistance in that work. Almost all the ‘experts’ I’ve talked to are convinced the problem is in the old lines leading to homes and short of a massive replacement CSO type bond that wouldn’t resolve the issue for a couple of years, nature (temp reductions), filters and a final connect seem to be the best courses of action. The residents are caught in a swirl of misinformation and long term distrust of local government unlikely to be resolved.”
September 28, 2015: Associated Press publishes another quoteattributed to MDEQ’s Brad Wurfel, who contends the water controversy is turning into “near hysteria.” And, “I wouldn’t call them irresponsible. I would call them unfortunate,” Wurfel said of the Hurley doctors’ comments. “Flint’s drinking water is safe in that it’s meeting state and federal standards. The system has an aging portion that needs to be addressed. They haven’t had meaningful maintenance for four decades or more.”
September 28, 2015: Letter from State Sen. Jim Ananich to Snyder: “It is completely unacceptable that respected scientific experts and our trusted local physicians have verified that the City of Flint’s drinking water is dangerous for our citizens, especially our most vulnerable young people.” Ananich calls for: 1) Switching water back to DWSD until KWA is ready; 2) Corrosion control; 3) Filters and bottled water assistance; 4) A long-term commitment to address outdated infrastructure. (All of which the Snyder Administration will eventually act on, but it will take weeks.)
September 28, 2015: While Ananich is demanding answers from the governor, MDHHS Director Nick Lyon is seeking help within his department to seemingly fight the Hurley/Virginia Tech research. He writes in a 7:52 a.m. email… “I need an analysis of the Virginia Tech/Hurley data and their conclusions. I would like to make a strong statement with a demonstration of proof that the lead blood levels seen are not out of the ordinary and are attributable to seasonal fluctuations. Geralyn (Lasher) is working on this for me but she needs someone in public health who can work directly with her on immediate concerns/questions.”
September 28, 2015: Genesee County Health Officer Mark Valacak demands answers via email to Mark Miller and Rashmi Travis at MDHHS: “I want to know whether you have confirmed with the lead program staff at MDHHS that the state results that purport that lead levels have not shown a significant increase since the changeover of the water supply for the city of Flint indeed represent Flint city zip codes only and not Flint mailing addresses. As I mentioned to you both this morning, Flint mailing addresses include outlying areas like Flint and Mundy Townships which obtain their water from the Detroit water authority.” Valacak presses the next morning… “Any results yet?” Twenty minutes later Miller responds, says he’s checking on it, but no, there are no results yet.
September 28, 2015: Another staff briefing on which the governor is copied. How does the state decide if the water is creating a lead problem? “Compliance with the federal lead rule is based on a 90th percentile calculation. If more than 10 percent of samples report lead above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion, a water supply has an ‘action level exceedance.’ An exceedance is not a violation. It triggers other requirements which could include public notification, additional water quality sampling, and possibly further treatment. While some of Flint’s individual samples exceeded 15 parts per billion lead action level, compliance is based on the 90th percentile of samples. The City of Flint’s 90th percentile level has ranged from 0 parts per billion in 2008 and 2011 and 15 parts per billion in 1992, but never exceeded the action level. The two most recent sampling periods, in 2014 and 2015, were 6 parts per billion and 11 parts per billion, respectively.” The memo further states that it would take 15 years to replace more than 15,000 lead service lines in the Flint water system at a cost of $60 million or more, plus up to $8,000 more per homeowner to replace lead connections on private property from city lines to residential taps.
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: The governor is still getting guidance from his administration that Flint’s lead levels are not out of compliance with drinking water standards. This is seven months after EPA’s Del Toral first raises alarms, weeks after Virginia Tech’s Edwards reports deeply troubling independent lead test results in Flint, four days after Hurley Dr. Hanna-Attisha releases research concluding major increases in Flint children’s blood-lead levels after the Flint River switch, and three days after the City of Flint has issued its own lead advisory to the public.)
September 29, 2015: Kristi Tanner and Nancy Kaffer at the Detroit Free Press publish their own analysis of the state’s blood-lead data in Flint… “Data that the State of Michigan released last week to refute a hospital researcher's claim that an increasing number of Flint children have been lead-poisoned since the city switched its water supply actually supports the hospital's findings, a Free Press analysis has shown. Worse, prior to the water supply change, the number of lead-poisoned kids in Flint, and across the state, had been dropping; the reversal of that trend should prompt state public health officials to examine a brewing public health crisis.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: The Free Press report comes the morning after MDHHS Director Nick Lyon issues his directive that he wants an analysis that makes “a strong statement with a demonstration of proof that the lead blood levels seen are not out of the ordinary and are attributable to seasonal fluctuations.")
September 29, 10:45 a.m.: Email from Executive Director to the Governor Allison Scott to top Snyder aides Dennis Muchmore, Jarrod Agen, Beth Clement, Dan Wyant and Nick Lyon. The email shows the governor may now finally be rising above months of state agency deflections, shifting his focus to the Hurley results, and beginning to use the term “emergency.” Key points:
“You will be receiving a meeting notice from Beth Emmit for a meeting with the Governor this afternoon. Listed below are areas that we should provide him an update on engagement; if not yet engaged, then we need to engage asap.
- Emergency management – similar to disasters, is there some form of action we can engage for this situation to help manage.
- Chief Medical officer – should be speaking with Hurley
- WIC – re water and formula – status update
- Drain commissioner – how do we expedite KWA.”
September 29, 2015: Genesee County Health Supervisor Jim Henry emails Michelle Bruneau at MDHHS regarding ongoing lead education plans and the growing street-level despair in Flint… “Today, I talked to a 46-year-old man who told me that he and his dog have not drank water or anything else, since he ran out of bottled water two days ago…. In general, the most immediate concern seems to be the unknown lead levels and the cost to reduce or eliminate the risk.” Bruneau forwards the email to colleague Kory Groetsch with commentary: “Wow… this is just sad. It sounds like third world country, but it’s here and in our backyard. At what point can EPA/ATSDR step in and provide resources?”
September 29, 2015, 12:06 p.m.: MDHHS Deputy Director Geralyn Lasher circulates to a variety of departmental colleagues an advisory from Genesee County indicating that the locals are taking matters in their own hands, demanding fresh analysis of state blood level data from DCH, and threatening to seek third-party analysis of the state data DCH has consistently used to suggest no elevated blood lead levels due to the Flint water. “The county is prepared to take further action if the State fails to provide the requested data by September 30, 2015. Further action could include a request for outside independent evaluation of the data and to declare a Public Health Emergency in Flint.”
- Lasher writes: “I understand that we are still reviewing the data – but the county has basically issued a ransom date that they want this information by tomorrow… Eden – please coordinate an answer so Nick can walk into the 1 p.m. (meeting with the governor) prepared on this.”
September 29, 2015: Governor Rick Snyder receives a detailed timeline by email on all Flint water events from 2012 forward. (The document is prepared by the Michigan Department of Treasury and its findings are fully represented throughout this Truth Squad timeline.)
September 29, 2015: Email from MDHHS Deputy Director Geralyn Lasher to Nancy Peeler, Eden Wells (the state’s chief medical officer) , Robert Scott, and several others at MDHHS: “Is it possible to get the same type of data for just children under the age of six? So basically, the city of Flint kids ages six and under with the same type of approach as the attached chart you gave us last week?” Response, less than an hour later, from Linda Dykema to Corinne Miller, Sara LyonCallo and Eden Wells.. “It’s bad enough to have a data war with outside entities, we absolutely cannot engage in competing data analyses within the Department, or, heaven forbid, in public releases.” Moments later, Eden Wells issues a one-word response… “Agree.”
September 29, 12:25 p.m.: The same day there's worry in MDHHS about a “data war,” Dr. Hanna-Attisha emails MDHHS Chief Medical Officer Eden Wells with clear updated findings of the Hurley study. Using geographic information system software, Hurley has isolated blood level results just in the city of Flint, especially in high-risk areas of the city (something the state analysis has not yet done).
In the two highest-risk wards, Hanna-Attisha reports in this email, “the elevated blood lead level percentage more than tripled.” Wells responds in email two hours later, says the state is working on replicating the analysis, and wants to know when Hurley is going public with its results.
Hanna-Attisha responds: “Our intent was has never been to go public with anything. However, when we noticed our findings and the glaring correlation to elevated water lead levels in the same locations and learned that corrosion control as never added to the water treatment, we ethically could not stay silent. In addition, your annual elevated blood level percentage supports our findings – annual decrease (as seen nationally) and then an increase post-water switch. We also knew that releasing our data would only incite a data war; however, the more we dig, the more alarming the results. (Do you know GM stopped using Flint River water because it was too corrosive on their parts??? That should have alerted us to its effect on lead pipes.)"
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: In other words, this local Flint physician (with groundwork first by Virginia Tech) put all the pieces together – in contrast to months of inaction and denial on the part of the two state agencies charged with protecting the public health and drinking water.)
That same evening, Wells responds again: “I certainly understand your role and the need to address the problem you identified; as physicians, our ethical and professional vows to care for and prevent harm to our patients is paramount. No need for data wars – I think we are all just trying to be sure, as you and I said earlier, that we are comparing the same data the same way – 'apples to apples.'”
September 29, 2015: Genesee County issues a health advisory about Flint water.
September 30, 2015: Mayor Dayne Walling receives fierce criticism for his repeated declarations that Flint River water was safe. Fr. Phil Schmitter, one of a number of concerned religious figures in Flint, writes: “You delayed your action on this issue for an inordinate amount of time. People were told over and over that it was all fine… I no longer trust the city on this issue. And that we have now a lead problem for babies and children is unconscionable.”
Walling forwards the email directly to DEQ Director Dan Wyant and says, “I have searched myself over and over on this. I don’t know what more I could have done given the guidance coming from EPA and DEQ and subsequently city staff but this major health issue did come up anyway and our community is paying a huge price. As the press conference is put together, it is necessary in my mind that we provide an explanation for how this happened and outline the steps that ensure it will never happen again.”
October 1, 2015: Genesee County Public Health Officials issue an advisory telling Flint residents not to drink the city water.
October 1, 2015: MLive reports the “city knows which homes in Flint have pipes most likely to leach lead into tap water but can’t easily access the information because it’s kept on 45,000 index cards." Flint Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft “said Wednesday September 30 that he ‘can’t put a number on’ how long it will take the city to convert its paper records into electronic data or maps that can be used to pinpoint lead hot spots. ‘It’s on our to-do list,’ he said. Work on computerizing information on the index cards has started, but about 75 percent of the work remains.”
October 1, 2015: The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services now confirms the results of the Dr. Hanna-Attisha/Hurley Medical Center Study (showing greatly increased blood lead levels in some Flint neighborhoods). A MDHHS “talking points” memo from email records offers more admissions and context, yet the agency is still downplaying the issue in some ways. Key points of the “talking points” memo:
- “Initial analysis of MDHHS data found that blood lead levels of children in Flint have followed an expected seasonal trend; due to small numbers further analysis was initiated.”
- “After a comprehensive and detailed review down to the zip code level, we have found that the state analysis is consistent with that presented by Hurley.”
- “There is an increased proportion of children with elevated blood lead levels in several zip codes, particularly 03 and 04. These appear to have increased over the past 1.5 years.”
- Yet more downplaying: “Lead exposure can occur from a number of different sources (such as paint, gasoline, solder, and consumer products) and through different pathways (such as air, food, water, dust and soil.) Although there are several exposure sources, lead-based paint is still the most widespread and dangerous high-dose source of lead exposure for young children.”
- Finally, more than two months after offering a far-less complete analysis, MDHHS follows Hurley’s methodology and discovers the same problem… “We reviewed MDHHS statewide data using the same methodology used by Hurley, looking at our numbers by zip code and age ranges, and filtering out non-Flint children. Routine surveillance of blood lead levels does not analyze data down to the zip code level. Detailed analysis like this occurs when there is reason to focus on precise locations or populations.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Bottom line: The state had not previously performed this detailed analysis, despite clear reason to focus on precise locations and populations in the city of Flint for months. It took a Flint doctor to show state government experts the path to the truth. With this admission, state agencies and the Snyder Administration finally begin to shift from defense, denial, and deflection to action.)
More emails that evening, between DCH Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Officer Eden Wells…
- Lyon: “I’d like to express my appreciation to the Hurley doctors for bringing this issue to our attention. Is that ok?
- Wells: “Yes, yes, yes, is my vote!!!!”
- Lyon: “Can I confidently say that we were not aware before last week?”
- Wells: “I was aware only of (Virginia Tech) and DEQ media; until Thursday last week.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: The bottom line, Lyon didn’t get the MDHHS data defense he’d requested just a few days earlier. The data showed just the opposite. The scientific proof of the true extent of the Flint disaster is completely brought to light by outside researchers (Virginia Tech and Hurley). Those outside researchers must first overcome the denials and deflections of two state departments in which dozens of state workers - from Snyder appointees and spokespeople, to medical “experts,” to technical regulators and other government employees - all whiffed.)
October 1, 2015: Suddenly swift action by the Snyder Administration. Email from chief of staff Muchmore to the governor and others, noting that “we have the proposal back” from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to reconnect the City of Flint to Detroit water. Details: “Short term reconnect is ok until KWA starts operating… No reconnect fee and immediate reconnect… Expenses incurred at actual cost… Fixed monthly rate of $662,000… Only extends to Flint… (Detroit) Mayor (Mike) Duggan is more than willing to lend his support.”
October 2, 2015: More suddenly swift action by the Snyder Administration as documented in email from aides to the governor. There are new outlines of infographics/posters of planned state action including:
- Testing in Flint schools to ensure that drinking water is safe.
- Expanding health exposure testing of individual homes.
- Offering free water testing to Flint residents to assure their drinking water is safe.
- Accelerating corrosion controls in the Flint drinking water system.
- Accelerating water system improvements.
- Expediting completion of the KWA pipeline.
- Providing water filters to Flint residents.
- Creating a comprehensive lead education program.
October 2, 2015: Email from Snyder Deputy Press Secretary Dave Murray transmits a release by MDEQ Director Dan Wyant and MDHHS Director Nick Lyon with more admissions:
- “A recent announcement by local doctors that blood lead levels are rising in children residing in Flint’s most at-risk ZIP codes added to the state’s knowledge and sparked some additional precautionary measures.”
- And, despite all the foibles, the release makes this audacious claim: “The state takes lead seriously. Although continued analysis is being conducted, the MDHHS analysis is consistent with the local finding.”
October 2, 2015: Governor Snyder announces a “comprehensive action plan” to address Flint water issues. Key talking points provided by staff:
- “The water leaving Flint’s drinking water system is safe to drink, but some families with lead plumbing in their homes or service connections could experience higher levels of lead in the water that comes out of their faucets.”
- “State health experts said there has been an increase in elevated childhood blood lead levels in some specific communities. Initial analysis of MDHHS data found blood lead levels of children in Flint have followed an expected seasonal trend. While this analysis for Flint as a whole remains true, a comprehensive and detailed review breaking down data by ZIP codes with the city revealed that MDHHS data is consistent with a study presented recently by Hurley Children’s Hospital.”
- “While we cannot conclusively say that the water source change is the sole cause of the increase, this analysis supports our efforts as we take active steps to reduce all potential lead exposures in Flint,” MDHHS Director Nick Lyon said.
- “This action plan offers concrete steps we will take in a local, state and federal partnership to ensure all Flint residents have safe water to drink,” MDEQ Director Dan Wyant said. “The DEQ will work closely with the city to gather further data to ensure the water that leaves Flint’s system as well as the water that arrives in Flint homes is safe to drink.”
- A Snyder quote in the Detroit Free Press, suggests he’s now believing the outside researchers and wants state agencies to work more closely with them… “This is an important issue and I want to make sure that people are working well together to address this. We all have a concern about Flint’s drinking water in terms of what we’re seeing on lead.”
- Wyant tells the Detroit Free Press that Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s work is what led to the state acceleration. “There’s no doubt that new testing data is justifying these actions,” he said.
October 6, 2015: Emails indicate MDEQ Director Dan Wyant will update the governor daily on the Flint water action plan announced October 2. Other correspondence says 4,600 water filters are distributed on this day alone.
October 7, 2015: State Budget Director John Roberts outlines $10.4 million in state aid to implement the action plan of October 2.
October 8, 2015: City of Flint develops its plan to reconnect to Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. (As reported in a timeline produced by the Michigan Auditor General in December 2015).
October 15, 2015: Snyder signs a bill authorizing $6 million in state aid to move Flint back to Detroit water until the Karegnondi Water Authority is finished. Several million more dollars authorized for drinking water sample testing, water filters for Flint residents, follow up services for children. City of Flint also kicks in $2 million and the Charles Steward Mott Foundation provides $4 million.
October 15, 2015: Email from Liane Shekter Smith (MDEQ) to DEQ colleagues Brad Wurfel, Jim Sygo, and George Krisztian. Key points:
- Before the switch to Flint River water, “Staff believed that it was appropriate to monitor for two 6-month rounds of sampling to determine if additional measures were necessary. Based on the sampling performed, the city is required to install corrosion control treatment (see August 17, 2015 letter).”
- “A pilot test was not required or conducted. Staff believed that it was appropriate to monitor for two 6-month rounds to determine if additional measures would be necessary.”
October 16, 2015: Flint reconnects to the Detroit drinking water system (sourced from Lake Huron). But, after many months without corrosion control in the Flint distribution system, the switch does not immediately solve the lead problem. Bottled water will remain the safest drinking source for Flint residents into 2016.
October 16, 2015: EPA establishes the Flint Safe Drinking Water Task Force to “”assist with developing and implementing a plan to secure water quality” in Flint.
Sunday, October 18, 2015: MDEQ Director Dan Wyant admits to the governor that his department has made a huge mistake.
- Wyant writes: “… staff made a mistake while working with the city of Flint. Simply stated, staff employed a federal (corrosion control) treatment protocol they believed was appropriate, and it was not.”
- Wyant continues: “Attached is our response to the Detroit News for a story that they are preparing for tomorrow. Part of that story looks at whether the DEQ staff followed appropriate federal protocols in light of Flint’s population size. My responses, enclosed here, are an effort to acknowledge something that has come out in the past week through internal review. Simply said, our staff believed they were constrained by two consecutive six-month tests. We followed and defended that protocol. I believe now we made a mistake. For communities with a population above 50,000, optimized corrosion control should have been required from the beginning. Because of what I have learned, I will be announcing a change in leadership in our drinking water program. I’ve spoken with Dennis about this, and we will be making that announcement as part of the Detroit News article that likely will be out tomorrow.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Bottom line… In effect, after eight months of systemic denial throughout his department, the MDEQ director finally admits that EPA researcher Miguel Del Toral was right all along.)
- Wyant also responds in writing to a Detroit News inquiry at this time: “There is substantial controversy over the lead and copper rule – the EPA has been working for years on ways to update it, and Michigan will be an active part of that conversation going forward. The situation in Flint is a snapshot of an issue affecting cities around the state and the nation. More than a dozen states use the same sampling protocol Michigan uses – that’s not a defense of the protocol, but rather an indication that even experts on the issue disagree about the most effective testing methods. What everyone can agree on is that lead is a serious issue. And I think everyone can agree that when the state came to recognize that there could be a health threat in the city, we took appropriate action. We are now engaged in an unprecedented effort to protect kids and families in Flint, develop more knowledge about what has happened and how people were affected, and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again – in Michigan, or anywhere else. All the people who brought this issue forward deserve credit for bringing it to us. Our actions reflected inexperience, and our public response to the criticism was the wrong tone early in this conversation. But the best we can do with the situation going forward is represented in our present course – the Governor’s plan represents all the suggestions outlined in the draft EPA memo, the Virginia Tech report, and the guidance we’ve gotten from EPA.”
October 19, 2015: Detroit News reporter Jim Lynch puts the Wyant admission in clear context in a lengthy published report. Key points:
- “Dan Wyant, director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, said late Sunday that staff members applied the wrong standards of the Lead and Copper Rule that governs testing and monitoring for drinking water. The result was that proper controls regarding corrosion were not put in place when the city began drawing its water from the Flint River in spring 2014.”
- “Our actions reflected inexperience, and our public response to criticism was the wrong tone early in this conversation,” Wyant said.
- “State officials seemingly failed to heed repeated warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency as far back as February about potential problems with Flint’s water system.”
- “Communications released this week between the federal agency and DEQ also show how an environmental law designed to protect the public allowed the government to utilize questionable water testing practices and move slowly in addressing problems, all while remaining ‘in compliance’ with regulations.”
- “Emails and letters released by the state this week show many missed opportunities for health and environmental agencies to identify the lead problems months ago.”
October 21, 2015: Governor Snyder announces a Flint Water Task Force to review state, federal and municipal actions related to the Flint crisis.
October 26, 2015: Former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley pens a Detroit News guest column titled, “Don’t blame EM for Flint water disaster.” Among the assertions: “This was a local decision that was made by local civic leaders. Anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Earley writes this despite the fact that then-State Treasurer Andy Dillon made the “ultimate decision” to switch from DWSD, state-appointed emergency manager Ed Kurtz hired an engineering firm to figure out how to use the Flint River as a primary water source, and Earley himself penned the letter to DWSD saying Flint was switching water sources to the Flint River.)
November 3, 2015: EPA issues clarifying national orders on the Lead and Copper Rule and corrosion control. The EPA acknowledges ambiguity in the LCR in the past regarding corrosion control, but the November 3 letter sets out strong language for change and how to prevent the Flint situation from reoccurring in the future:
- “This memorandum clarifies how the LCR applies to this situation and eliminates the uncertainty for water systems and primacy agencies (note: this means state regulators like the MDEQ) that may face these circumstances in the future.”
- “It is important for large systems and primacy agencies to take the steps necessary to ensure that appropriate corrosion control treatment is maintained at all times, thus ensuring that public health is protected. “
- “Due to the unique characteristics of each primary water source (e.g., source water, existing treatment processes, distribution system materials) it is critical that public water systems, in conjunction with their primacy agencies and, if necessary, outside technical consultants, evaluate and address potential impacts resulting from treatment and/or source water changes.”
- “Primacy agencies should work with systems that plan to disconnect from a supplier that had installed corrosion control treatment to determine the optimal corrosion control treatment for the new source and establish water quality parameters for that treatment instead of using the optimal corrosion control treatment and water quality parameters for the previous source.”
- “This will allow a system to… ensure protection of public health during and after the change in source. “
- “(I)t is important to conduct a system-wide assessment prior to any source water and/or treatment modifications and to identify existing or anticipated water quality, treatment or operational issues that may interfere with or limit the effectiveness of corrosion control treatment optimization or re-optimization.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Bottom line: EPA researcher Miguel Del Toral was apologized for by the EPA’s top official in the Midwest in July. He was ignored and discredited by MDEQ staff for months. Now, this federal order reinforces virtually all of Del Toral’s concerns about Flint’s water supply dating back to February.)
November 10, 2015: EPA publicly announces a full audit of the MDEQ’s oversight of public water supplies statewide in the wake of the Flint disaster. The audit will take several months.
November 16, 2015: MDEQ briefing paper to the Flint Water Task Force. Key points:
- Two weeks after EPA issues new lead and copper rules, and a month after MDEQ Director Dan Wyant’s disclosure to the governor of a big mistake, the MDEQ in this memo clings anew to its legalistic conclusion that they were not required to call for corrosion control in Flint from the start.
- “Did the DEQ require the City to have corrosion control in place when it switched to the Flint River as its source of drinking water? No… The DEQ requested that the City perform two 6-month rounds of monitoring to demonstrate if the City was practicing optimal corrosion control treatment…. Since the City water system had not been the supplier of water before, the DEQ did not require the City to maintain corrosion control for which it was not responsible…. The DEQ’s instructions to the City were consistent with past practices afforded to all other large water systems. At the beginning of the (Lead and Copper Rule), all large systems were initially granted the option to demonstrate optimal corrosion control treatment through full-scale monitoring under the applicable rules. For these reasons, two 6-month rounds of monitoring, as required by the LCR, were the required means to determine whether or not optimal corrosion control was being achieved.”
- “What was the DEQ’s response to the USEPA’s inquiry in February 2015 regarding optimized corrosion control treatment being implemented by the City under the LCR? The DEQ indicated that the City was complying with the LCR, the lead 90th percentile level was below the action level of 15 ppb, and the City was already conducting the second round of monitoring which would provide for a determination of whether additional treatment needed to be installed. It should be noted that once treatment is designated as optimal, there is no requirement in the LCR that lead results be lower than they were before treatment was installed. The 90th percentile only needs to be lower than the action level in the LCR.”
- “Did the DEQ attempt to mislead the USEPA in a February 27, 2015, email responding to the USEPA’s inquiry regarding Optimal Corrosion Control Treatment? No. There was no attempt by the DEQ to mislead the USEPA. There is an email from Steve Busch, Jackson and Lansing District Supervisor, Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, indicating that the City was practicing a corrosion control program. What was meant was that the City was performing the required monitoring to determine whether or not they were practicing optimized corrosion control. The DEQ subsequently clarified its position in follow-up emails and telephone conversations with the USEPA.”
- “When General Motors announced its intent to terminate water service from the City… should this have been a sign that there were concerns with the quality of the water after the switch to the Flint River?.. No. General Motors made a decision regarding the quality of the water for its manufacturing processes. At the time, the company indicated that the chloride levels were above limits acceptable as part of the manufacturing facility’s limit for production purposes. The level of chlorides in the water treated by the City was not a human health or aesthetic concern.”
(TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: This is an amazing statement. Chlorides accelerate corrosion, so much so that the Flint water was no longer suitable for GM’s manufacturing processes. Corrosion also accelerates lead levels in drinking water. Outside experts like Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards and Flint Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha clearly connected these dots. Yet MDEQ did not react to this General Motors warning sign.)
- Additional revelations about how lead samples were collected in Flint. (An issue first raised in part by Miguel Del Toral in February 2015 and amplified in the fall by Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards) “DEQ had no reason to question the validity of the City’s reports until the DEQ heard City employees revealing to the media that the City did not know for certain if its compliance monitoring was collected from homes with lead service lines… (T)he DEQ determined from information available that a significant number of these sites that had been listed as having lead service lines either did not have them or the information was unavailable. On November 9, 2015, the DEQ notified the City in writing that it would be necessary to conduct a complete assessment of its sampling pool and report back its findings by December 30, 2015.
- “Do the DEQ’s sampling instructions comply with the Lead and Copper Rule? The DEQ continues to seek official clarification from the USEPA regarding the sampling protocols. [NOTE: This is NINE months after EPA’s Del Toral raises serious questions about DEQ’s sampling protocols.Early in the implementation of the LCR, the DEQ had encountered too many situations where compliance samples had been collected from kitchen and bathroom taps that had not been used in days and in some cases, even weeks, resulting in excessively stagnated water and correspondingly high lead levels that did not represent typical exposure expected after overnight stagnation…. In order to ensure samples were taken at customer taps representative of typical use, the DEQ devised the current recommendations for ensuring appropriate but not excessive stagnation for LCR monitoring.”
November 21, 2015: The American Journal for Public Health accepts for publication in its February 2016 edition a peer reviewed research paper led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha titled, “Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated With the Flint Drinking Water Crisis: A Spatial Analysis of Risk and Public Health Response.” Key conclusions:
- “Incidence of elevated blood lead levels increased from 2.4 percent to 4.9 percent after water source change, and neighborhoods with the highest water lead levels experienced a 6.6 percentage increase. No significant change was seen outside the city.”
- “The percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels increased after water source change, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Water is a growing source of childhood lead exposure because of aging infrastructure.”
- “Water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department had very low corrosivity for lead as indicated by low chloride, low chloride-to-sulfate mass ratio, and presence of an orthophosphate corrosion inhibitor. Flint River water had high chloride, high chloride-to-sulfate mass ratio, and no corrosion inhibitor. Switching from Detroit’s Lake Huron to Flint River water created a perfect storm for lead leaching into drinking water.”
- “The aging flint water distribution system contains high percentage of lead pipes and lead plumbing, with estimates of lead service lines ranging from 10 percent to 80 percent.”
- “Experiments by Virginia Tech university show Flint’s treated water – drawn from the Flint River – is about 19 times more corrosive than Lake Huron water than had been purchased from the City of Detroit for decades, making the problem much worse than in the past.”
- “Armed with reports of elevated water lead levels and recognizing the lifelong consequences of lead exposure, our research team sought to analyze blood lead levels before and after the water source switch with a geographic information system to determine lead exposure risk and prioritize responses. This research has immediate public policy, public health, environmental, and socioeconomic implications.”
- “The declining industrial and residential tax bases strained the city’s ability to provide basic city services and reversed public health fortunes of the city and the suburbs. Severely reduced city population densities reduced water demand in the distribution system, exacerbating problems with lead corrosion.”
- “This retrospective study includes all children younger than 5 years who had a blood lead level processed through Hurley Medical Center’s laboratory, which runs blood lead levels for most Genesee County children.”
- “Our city of Flint sample included 736 children in the pre period and 737 children in the post period.” Across all of Flint, the proportion of children under five years old with lead levels above 5 parts per billion doubled after the Flint River switch, from 2.4 percent to 4.9 percent… In areas of the city identified by Virginia Tech has having high water lead levels, the proportion of children under five years old nearly tripled… from 4 percent to 10.6 percent after the water source switch.
- “Our findings reveal a striking increase in the percentage of Flint children with elevated blood lead levels when we considered identical seasons before and after the water source switch, with no statistically significant increase in elevated blood lead levels outside flint. The spatial and statistical analyses highlight the greatest elevated blood lead level increase within certain wards of Flint, which correspond to the areas of elevated water lead levels.”
- “A review of alternative sources of lead exposure reveals no other potential environmental confounders during the same time period.”… No corresponding increase in home demolitions that would have spread lead, no new manufacturing sources of lead, no correspondence between the neighborhoods with high blood lead or water lead levels and historical manufacturing, etc.
- “Because there was no known alternative source for increased lead exposure during this time period, the geospatial water lead levels results, the innate corrosive properties of the Flint River water, and, most importantly, the lack of corrosion control, our findings strongly implicate the water source change as the probable cause for the dramatic increase in elevated blood lead level percentage.”
- “Increased lead-poisoning rates have profound implications for the life course potential of an entire cohort of Flint children already rattled with toxic stress contributors (e.g., poverty, violence, unemployment, food insecurity.)”
- “More stable neighborhoods in the far north and south of the city may have experienced improved predicted blood lead levels because of prevention efforts taken by the more-often middle-class residents in response to the water source change.”
- “Lead is a potent neurotoxin, and childhood lead poisoning has an impact on many developmental and biological processes, most notably intelligence, behavior, and overall life achievement. With estimated societal costs in the billions, lead poisoning has a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority children.”
- “A once-celebrated cost-cutting move for an economically distressed city, the water source change has now wrought untold economic, population health, and geo-political burdens.”
- “The legal safeguards and regulating bodies designed to protect vulnerable populations from preventable lead exposure failed.”
- “As our aging water infrastructures continue to decay, and as communities across the nation struggle with finances and water supply sources, the situation in Flint may be a harbinger for future safe drinking-water challenges. Ironically, even when one is surrounded by the Great Lakes, safe drinking water is not a guarantee.”
November 23, 2015: EPA’s Flint Drinking Water Task Force provides comments to MDEQ’s revised Lead and Copper Sampling Instructions, and appears to validate Del Toral's early misgivings about how the state directed lead sampling in Flint."The task force agrees with the removal of pre-flushing.”
December 3, 2015: The staff of State Representative Adam Zemke sends email to MDEQ requesting feedback on a bill he plans to introduce to require drinking water in schools be tested at least once every three years. MDEQ’s Liane Shekter Smith responds in email four days later: “… (T)his is a huge expense…. They have to figure there are approximately 30 drinking water faucets on average at each school… I suspect it’s a really big number! This proposal is also disconnected from how water sampling is accomplished. Most parameters are required to be met at the plant tap (at the point the water enters the distribution system). Only a few parameters (lead, copper, disinfection byproducts, bacteria) are monitored out in the system at customer taps. Even if the proposal were to be for only lead and copper, this is a huge expense that would be placed on the supplier of water inappropriately. I understand the desire to have this kind of information, but if the legislature wants to require this monitoring, the burden for this should be on the schools or the board of education.”
December 5, 2015: A Genesee County Health Department official accuses state officials of attempting to cover up their mishandling of the investigation into the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened 87 people in 2014 and 2015, and killed 10, according to emails obtained by the Detroit Free Press. “The state is making clear they are not practicing ethical public health practice,” Tamara Brickey, the health department’s public health division director, writes to other county health officials. “Now evidence is clearly pointing to a deliberate cover-up,” Brickey writes. “In my opinion, if we don’t act soon, we are going to become guilty by association.”
December 14, 2015: City of Flint declares emergency.
December 16, 2015: EPA Flint Drinking Water Task Force says Flint should not switch to KWA water in 2016 until the treated water meets finished water quality goals, plant operational issues are identified and dealt with, water plant operations staff are proficient in treating the new source, and Flint performs numerous assessments. (The kind of pre-planning and safety checks Flint and MDEQ never performed before the switch to Flint River water.
December 22: Email from Snyder Communications Director Meegan Holland to Snyder and other aides regarding new revelations by Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards. Key points:
- Holland notes the headline of a new Edwards blog post: “Michigan Health Department Hid Evidence of Health Harm Due to Lead Contaminated Water. Allowed False Public Assurances by MDEQ and Stonewalled Outside Researchers.” The blog post is based on state email records obtained by Edwards under the Freedom of Information Act.
- “The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has been, and continues to be, committed to full disclosure of information regarding the city of Flint and blood lead levels. To suggest otherwise is not consistent with how we have responded.”
- “It wasn’t until the Hurley report came out that our epidemiologists took a more in-depth look at the data by zip code, controlling for seasonal variation, and confirmed an increase outside of normal trends. As a result of this process, we have determined that the way we analyze data collected needs to be thoroughly reviewed.”
TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: In other words, here’s yet another huge gap in the regulatory framework to protect public health. The concerns of two established outside researchers (from EPA and Virginia Tech) weren't sufficient to prompt state agencies to reconsider their approach to lead detection. It took a local physician to open up the state’s eyes to the problem they had strongly denied.)
December 23, 2013: The Michigan Auditor General provides an investigative report of Flint Water issues as requested by State Senator Jim Ananich. Key points:
- “We did not note any instance of major infractions (i.e., intentional disregard of policies, laws, regulations, or specific directions) committed by DEQ staff during the course of our review…. (O)ur review of DEQ correspondence confirmed the escalation of key issues up the chain of command related to the Flint situation.”
- “Did DEQ consult with the EPA prior to determining how to apply the Lead and Copper Rule? DEQ did not consult with the EPA on how to apply the LCR prior to implementing two consecutive six-month monitoring periods of the Flint Water Treatment Plant beginning July 1, 2014.”
- “When Flint switched to the Flint River water source, should corrosion control treatment have been maintained? We believe that corrosion control should have been maintained.”
- Citing the November 3 EPA memorandum, the AG report concluded, “based on this clarification, it appears that corrosion control treatment should have been maintained.”
- “Should DEQ have required the Flint Water Treatment Plant to start pursuing optimized corrosion control treatment after the first round of six-month sampling results were above the lead action level of five parts per billion? Yes. The first round of six-month sampling results were received in late March 2015. Because the results were 1 part per billion over the lead action level of 5 parts per billion, DEQ would not be able to achieve two consecutive six-month periods below 5 parts per billion. Therefore, DEQ should have notified the Flint Water Treatment Plant to start pursuing optimized corrosion control treatment. However, DEQ waited until the second round of sampling was completed (June 30, 2015) to assess whether water sample results improved.”
- “Did DEQ verify that only tier 1 sample sites were selected by the Flint Water Treatment Plant (for the two rounds of six-month lead sampling)? DEQ did not verify that only tier 1 sample sites were selected.”
- “Was flushing of taps the night before drawing a sample an appropriate sample methodology? Yes. The LCR requires that samples be a first draw of water after six hours of stagnation. The LCR does not indicate whether or not the water line should be flushed prior to collecting the sample. In the sample instructions, DEQ required pre-flushing to ensure that sampled facets were not stagnant for an excessive period of time beyond the targeted six hours…. The LCR requires six hours of stagnation, however it does not preclude DEQ from instructing resident to flush prior to stagnation.”
December 28, 2015: Email from Jerrod Agen, who is transitioning from communications director to chief of staff, to Governor Rick Snyder, alerting him to the release coming the next day of the key Flint Water Advisory Task Force conclusions:
- “The recommendations in this letter suggest profound change at DEQ and openly criticize Director Wyant. If this is the path that the Task Force is on, it is best to make changes at DEQ sooner rather than later. That likely means accepting Dan’s resignation. It also means moving up the termination of the 3 DEQ personnel previously planned for Jan 4 to tomorrow.”
December 29, 2015: Flint Water Advisory Task Force, the investigation team established weeks earlier by Gov. Snyder, issues its preliminary conclusions. Key points:
“We believe the primary responsibility for what happened in Flint rests with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Although many individuals and entities at the state and local levels contributed to creating and prolonging the problem, MDEQ is the government agency that has responsibility to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan. It failed in that responsibility and must be held accountable for that failure.”
The MDEQ failed in three fundamental ways.
- Regulatory Failure: “We believe that in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance (ODWMA) at MDEQ, a culture exists in which 'technical compliance' is considered sufficient to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan. This minimalist approach to regulatory and oversight responsibility is unacceptable and simply insufficient to the task of public protection. It led to MDEQ’s failure to recognize a number of indications that switching the water source in Flint would – and did – compromise both water safety and water quality.”
- Failure in Substance and Tone of MDEQ Response to the Public: “Throughout 2015, as the public raised concerns and as independent studies and testing were conducted and brought to the attention of MDEQ, the agency’s response was often one of aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved. We find both the tone and substance of many MDEQ public statements to be completely unacceptable… What is disturbing about MDEQ’s responses, however, is their persistent tone of scorn and derision. In fact, the MDEQ seems to have been more determined to discredit the work of others – who ultimately proved to be right – than to pursue its own oversight responsibility.”
- Failure in MDEQ Interpretation of the Lead and Copper Rule: Prior to the Flint River water source switch, “MDEQ staff instructed the City of Flint water treatment staff that corrosion control treatment was not necessary until two six-month monitoring periods had been conducted… The decision not to require corrosion control treatment, made at the direction of the MDEQ, led directly to the contamination of the Flint water system.”
- “We are not finished with our work. Other individuals and entities made poor decisions, contributing to and prolonging the contamination of the drinking water supply in Flint. As an example, we are particularly concerned by recent revelations of MDHHS’s apparent early knowledge of, yet silence about, elevated blood lead levels detected among Flint’s children.”
(Truth Squad Note: This task force includes: 1) Ken Sikkema, former Republican Senate Majority Leader; 2) Chris Kolb, head of the Michigan Environmental Council and a former Democratic state legislator; 3) Matthew Davis, a University of Michigan pediatrician; 4) Eric Rothstein, a water consultant; 5) Lawrence Reynolds, a Flint pediatrician and president of the Mott Children's Health Center.)
December 29, 2015: Email from Communications Director Meegan Holland to Gov. Snyder detailing a statement from the governor to staff and media that afternoon:
- “When I became aware that the city of Flint’s water showed elevated lead levels and that the state’s handling of the situation was being questioned, I requested funding to switch the source back to (Detroit) and appointed an independent task force to identify possible missteps and areas for improvement.”
- “I want the Flint community to know how very sorry I am that this has happened. And I want all Michigan citizens to know that we will learn from this experience, because Flint is not the only city that has an aging infrastructure.”
- “I know many Flint citizens are angry and want more than an apology. That’s why I’m taking actions today to ensure a culture of openness and trust. We’ve already allocated $10 million to test the water, distribute water filters, and help in other ways. Last week, I called Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, and we’re going to meet soon to discuss other ways the state can offer assistance.”
- And a clear and direct order to state departments to work cooperatively with outside researchers: “I understand there can be disagreements within the scientific community. That is why I have directed both the departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services to invite every external scientist who has worked on this issue to be our partners in helping us improve Flint water. Together, we should work to affirm that we’re using the very best testing protocols to ensure Flint residents have safe drinking water and that we’re taking steps to protect their health over the short term and the long term.”
December 30, 2015: DEQ Director Dan Wyant and DEQ chief spokesman Brad Wurfel resign.
January 4, 2016: Genesee County Commission declares a state of emergency.
January 12, 2016: Governor activates National Guard to assist with Flint water emergency and requests FEMA to coordinate an inter-agency recovery plan to provide resources to Flint. “Flint residents can continue to pick up free bottled water, water filters, replacement cartridges, and home water testing kits at the water resource sites.”
January 13, 2015: Snyder announces 87 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, including 9 deaths, since spring 2014. It is unclear if the diseases are linked to Flint River water. This is the first public notification, 10 months after the MDEQ notified Hollins that the outbreak coincided with the switch to Flint River water. State officials do not connect the disease outbreak or deaths to the Flint water system. Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor, says there is a “very strong likelihood” the outbreak is connected to Flint’s water.
January 13, 2016: The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announces the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Genesee County between June 2014 and November 2015. This is the first public notification, 10 months after the MDEQ notified Hollins that the outbreak coincided with the switch to Flint River water. State officials do not connect the disease outbreak or deaths to the Flint water system. Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor, says there is a “very strong likelihood” the outbreak is connected to Flint’s water.
January 15, 2016: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announces an investigation of the Flint water situation.
January 16, 2016: President Obama declares a federal emergency in Flint.
January 16, 2016: Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards writes on his blog: “Even worse, many residents currently refuse to believe that Flint’s water is acceptable for bathing and showering, which is a concern because the public health benefits from basic sanitation, outweigh the relatively low dangers from lead and legionella that are currently in Flint water.”
January 19, 2016: Snyder’s State of the State Address is devoted primarily to the Flint crisis, and he addresses Flint residents directly: "I'm sorry and I will fix it… You did not create this crisis, and you do not deserve this…. Government failed you at the federal, state and local level… We need to make sure this never happens again in any Michigan city."
January 19, 2016: Impassioned, perhaps even outrageous statements all around on WKAR’s "Off the Record" post-state of the state TV show:
- Longtime political analyst, founder of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, and former State Senator Bill Ballenger: “I run water over my rice every weekend in Flint and we’ve got no problems… and the situation in Flint is nowhere near as bad as you are depicting.”
- Former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer: “I trust the doctors who have looked at the lead levels in those children that the governor has poisoned."
January 20, 2016: Snyder appeals federal denial of major disaster declaration for Flint, which had it been granted would have made Flint eligible for more relief money than the earlier state of emergency. “This situation poses an imminent and long-term threat to the people of Flint… The problems will contribute to years – and potentially decades – of health problems and economic loss as well as require repairs to the infrastructure that neither the city, county nor state has the capacity to carry out.”
January 20, 2016: Michigan House passes a $28 million supplemental spending bill to aid Flint’s recovery from the water crisis. “My further commitment is the $28 million is just one more step toward a long-term solution. There is more to come,” Snyder says via press release. The bill is signed into law January 29.
January 21, 2016: EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman resigns over the Flint water crisis. She was a 2010 appointee of President Obama. Days earlier, on January 12, the Detroit News published an interview with Hedman in which she defended her actions and attempted to deflect blame. “Let’s be clear, the recommendation to DEQ (regarding the need for corrosion controls) occurred at higher and higher levels during this time period,” Hedman told The News. “And the answer kept coming back from DEQ that ‘no, we are not going to make a decision until after we see more testing results.’” Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards doesn’t buy it: As soon as the lack of corrosion controls became apparent, state e and federal officials should have acted to protect the public, the News quoted Edwards as saying. “At that point, you do not just have smoke, you have a three-alarm fire and respond immediately. There was no sense of urgency at any of the relevant agencies, with the obvious exception of Miguel del Toral, and he was silenced and discredited.”
January 21, 2016: President Obama announces $80 million in aid to Michigan, in part to help with Flint’s water infrastructure repairs.
January 21, 2016: EPA issues Emergency Order concerning Flint Water.
Starting with a cover letter from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to Gov. Rick Snyder:
- “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is deeply concerned by continuing delays and lack of transparency and has determined that the actions required by the order… are essential to ensuring the safe operation of Flint’s drinking water system and the protection of public health.”
And then the order itself:
- “On or about April 24, 2015, MDEQ notified EPA that the City did not have corrosion control treatment in place at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.”
- “During May and June, 2015, EPA Region 5 staff at all levels expressed concern to MDEQ and the City about increasing concentrations of lead in Flint drinking water and conveyed its concern about lack of corrosion control and recommended that the expertise of EPA’s Office of Research and Development should be used to avoid further water quality problems moving forward.”
- “On September 27, 2015, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman called MDEQ Director Dan Wyant to discuss the need for expedited implementation of corrosion control treatment, the importance of following appropriate testing protocols, urged MDEQ to enlist Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ involvement and discussed options to provide bottled water/premixed formula/filters until corrosion control is optimized.”
- “On November 25, 2015, the EPA Flint Task Force requested information that would allow EPA to determine the progress being made on corrosion control in the City’ this information has not been received by EPA. This information includes water quality parameter measurements (pH, total alkalinity, orthophosphate, chloride, turbidity, iron, calcium, temperature, conductivity) in the distribution system.”
- “On or about December 9, 2015, the City began feeding additional orthophosphate at the Flint Water Treatment Plant to begin optimizing corrosion control treatment. Notwithstanding the orthophosphate additions, high levels of lead and other contaminants are presumed to persist in the City’s water system until LCR optimization process, utilizing sampling and monitoring requirements, have confirmed lead levels have been reduced.”
- “The presence of lead in the City water supply is principally due to the lack of corrosion control treatment after the City’s switch to the Flint River as a source in April 2014. The river’s water was corrosive and removed protective coatings in the system. This allowed lead to leach into the drinking water, which can continue until the system’s treatment is optimized.”
- “The City, MDEQ, and the State have failed to take adequate measures to protect public health.”
- “EPA remains concerned that the City lacks the professional expertise and resources needed to carry out the recommended actions and to safely manage the City’s PWS.”
- “As a result of the emergency, EPA will promptly begin sampling and analysis of lead levels and other contaminants in the City to assure that all regulatory authorities and the public have accurate and reliable information. EPA will make its LCR sampling results available to the public on the Agency’s website.”
- “The lead and other contaminants will remain present in the PWS and will continue to present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of persons until the underlying problems with the corrosion control treatment and fundamental deficiencies in the operation of the PWS are corrected and sampling results confirm the lead and other contaminant are adequately treated.”
- “The EPA finds that there is an imminent and substantial endangerment to the people drinking water from the public water system of the City of Flint and that the actions taken by the State and/or the City are inadequate to protect public health.”
January 22, 2016: Governor goes on "Morning Joe" show on MSNBC and takes state workers to task. "The heads were not being given the right information by quote-unquote experts… I use that word with great trial and tribulation because they were considered experts in terms of their backgrounds.”
January 22, 2016: Detroit Free Press reports that “The activist hacker group Anonymous has launched a Flint operation and is calling for Gov. Rick Snyder to be charged with ‘voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.”… The crimes committed by Gov. Snyder as well as other city officials will not go unpunished.”
January 22, 2016: The Flint Water Advisory Task Force calls for the governor to engage with USEPA staff experts “versed in Lead and Copper Rule requirements… These individuals should be empowered to guide implementation of a comprehensive LCR sampling program in Flint that will monitor lead levels now and throughout the conversion to raw water supply by the Karegnondi Water Authority and full-time use of the Flint Water Treatment Plant.” The first among EPA experts the task force recommends to the governor is Miguel Del Toral, whose alarms about Flint were dismissed and hidden by the EPA and MDEQ throughout 2015.
January 22, 2016: Gov. Snyder returns additional executive powers to the mayor of Flint. “Mayor Weaver will now have the authority to appoint the city administrator and all department heads. Today’s action is the next step in transitioning to full, local control in Flint,” Snyder says in a press release.
January 22, 2016: Two MDEQ employees are “suspended pending an investigation, in accordance with Civil Service rules,” says a press release from the governor’s office. The employees are not named in the press release, though will soon be identified in media reports and state correspondence as Stephen Busch and Liane Shekter Smith.
January 22, 2016: New MDEQ Director Keith Creagh responds to an EPA emergency order of the day before, says the state “looks forward to working cooperatively” with EPA and the City of Flint on the drinking water issue, and then he takes a more combative stance: “The Order does not reference the tens of millions of dollars expended by or in the process of being expended by the State for water filters, drinking water, testing, and medical services.”
- “The Order demands that the State take certain actions, but fails to note that many of those actions, including those set forth above, have already been undertaken.”
- “From a legal perspective, we also question whether the USEPA has the legal authority to order a State and its agencies to take the actions outlined in the Order. We will fully outline our legal and factual concerns with the Order in writing or would be happy to host a meeting in Lansing or Flint…. Subject to the above comments, we are committed to implementing the measures in the Order….”
January 25, 2015: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette taps attorney Todd Flood (a defense attorney and former Wayne County assistant prosecutor) and former Detroit FBI bureau chief Andy Arena to lead a wide-ranging investigation into potential misconduct in office concerning the Flint water disaster. At the same time, State Representative LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit) files a petition with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to remove Schuette’s office from the Flint water crisis investigation claiming major conflicts of interest.
January 29, 2016: Revelations continue to flow out of the crisis. Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group, reveals a new set of state emails showing that state workers in Flint offices switched to purified water coolers as early as January 2015, even as state agencies were telling themselves, the Snyder administration and Flint residents that Flint water was safe.
February 2, 2016: The federal probe of the Flint water crisis turns criminal in nature. The U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit confirms that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the EPA Criminal Investigation Division are on the case.
February 5, 2016: Snyder announces that Liane Shekter Smith, head of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance for the state DEQ, is fired. Four months prior, Shekter Smith had received a performance bonus of $2,652, according to the Detroit News. She is the first to be fired in connection with the Flint water crisis. “Putting the well-being of Michiganders first needs to be the top priority for all state employees,“ Snyder says in a written statement.
February 26, 2016: Governor Snyder signs a $30 million supplemental budget bill for Flint. Among other things, it provides water bill credits to Flint residents for the portion of their water they could not safely use for drinking, bathing and cooking.
March 5, 2016: Fitch Ratings declares that it could cost $275 billion nationwide to replace drinking water service lines containing lead.
March 6, 2016: Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debate in Flint, blame the water crisis on the Republican Party, and both call on Governor Rick Snyder to resign. Snyder responds, issuing a press release documenting his administration’s responses to provide bottled water, National Guard help, funding and other assistance to the city and repeats his declaration that he will stay and fix the problems in Flint.
March 11, 2016: Governor Snyder calls for a full investigation of how the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services handled lead poisoning and Legionnaire’s disease issues throughout the crisis. The governor tasks the state’s Auditor General and MDHHS Inspector General with the probe.
March 18, 2016: It’s barb-trading all around in Congress as Governor Snyder and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testify in hearings. Republicans slam McCarthy. Democrats slam Snyder. And Snyder and McCarthy slam each other. Very little new information arises about the Flint water crisis. The Snyder-McCarthy testimony highlights numerous congressional hearings filled with finger-pointing but very little in the way of future-oriented preventative strategy or new revelations not already in the public record.
March 23, 2016: Flint is a case of “environmental injustice,” the Snyder-appointed Flint Water Task Force declares in its final report, laying the blame squarely on the Snyder Administration and its state agencies. The report also is highly critical of the state’s emergency manager law, saying the unilateral authority of emergency managers in Flint played a significant role in causing and prolonging the crisis and presented a lack of decision-making checks and balances. Emergency managers were too narrowly focused on financial issues in the water switch, the task force concluded. As in the task force’s preliminary reports, it found that the MDEQ and MDHHS both fundamentally failed in their missions to protect public health.
March 29, 2016: Flint utilities manager Mike Glasgow says in a Michigan legislative hearing that it was a “bad decision” to switch to the Flint River. He explains that the city had 26 employees to handle water treatment at the time of the switch in 2014. By comparison, the city had 40 water treatment employees a decade earlier when the treatment plant only served as a backup to water supplied by the city of Detroit.
April 1, 2016: Tensions rise between the Snyder Administration and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver. The mayor claims she’s being left out of state recovery planning. And the state warns Flint to withdraw threats of a city vs. state lawsuit over the water crisis.
April 11, 2016: State health officials announce that the death toll from the Legionnaires’ outbreak has grown to 12.
April 13, 2016: The Michigan Legislature extends a state of emergency in Flint over the water crisis through the end of summer.
April 15, 2016: As very high lead levels are found in nearly 20 Detroit schools’ drinking water, the city’s health chief urges lead screening for children city wide.
April 15, 2016: Governor Snyder proposes that Michigan adopt some of the toughest anti-lead standards in the country – tougher than federal rules – including annual testing in all schools, day care centers, adult foster care, and substance abuse clinics.
April 15, 2016: As the latest testing suggests lead levels in Flint drinking water are dropping, but still potentially harmful, Governor Snyder says he’d like to see Flint residents begin transitioning back to filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Flint residents remain reticent. Some suggest that Snyder should come to their homes and drink the water first.
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