Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was alerted to Flint’s water-quality problems early on, but delayed taking action because he didn’t care about the damage to people’s health from lead poisoning.
The story of malignant negligence in the Flint Michigan disaster keeps getting worse. In a review of 550 emails released by Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder this week, Detroit Free Press reporters Matthew Dolan and Paul Egan found that the governor was informed early on after Flint stopped getting its drinking water from the Detroit water system and switched to the Flint River as a source that the city’s water quality plunged.
The emails also showed that an effort was made at the time to keep the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) out of the loop so that tainted-water worries would not be subject to discovery via the Freedom of Information Act. Michigan exempts the governor’s office and legislature from public records disclosure. The governor began releasing another 6,000-8,000 emails Friday, so more revelations can be expected.
As a consequence of the switch to Flint River water in 2014, at least 100,000 city residents drank lead-contaminated water for more than a year. In September, a pediatrician found a spike in lead levels in Flint children. Lead contamination in tiny amounts is a powerful neurotoxin that can cause irreversible brain damage and other developmental problems in children. Many scientists say there is no safe level.
Dolan and Egan report:
Two of Gov. Rick Snyder’s top lawyers privately advocated moving the city of Flint back to the Detroit water system because of quality problems only months after Flint began to draw its drinking water from the Flint River and treat it at its own plant in mid-2014, according to a review of e-mails made public Friday by the governor’s office. […]
Valerie Brader, deputy legal counsel and senior policy adviser to Snyder, raised problems with Flint River water in an e-mail to the governor’s Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore and other top aides on Oct. 14, 2014.
She argued for returning the city to Detroit’s system drawn from Lake Huron, saying it made economic and environmental sense for an “urgent matter to fix.” She cited bacterial contamination in the treated river water and reduced quality that caused “GM to leave due to rusted parts.”
Snyder’s legal counsel Michael Gadola responded to Brader with an email of his own in which he called the use of the Flint River for a drinking water source as “downright scary.” He urged getting Flint back on the Detroit water system as quickly as possible. But Brader and another aide were told by Darnell Earley, Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager, that the contamination problem would diminish and not recur. In January 2015, Earley—who had made the decision to switch to Flint River water in the first place—rejected the proposal to move back to the Detroit water system. Earley’s appointment had been prompted by Flint’s desperate financial condition, and making changes that cost money was clearly not on his agenda.
Thus, it wasn’t until October 2015 that the switch back to the Detroit water system was made, a year after the governor’s aides had raised their alarm while intentionally keeping the DEQ in the dark. October was also when Snyder started seeking federal state-of-emergency status for Flint, something President Obama agreed to in January this year.
Chris Savage, the proprietor of Eclectablog, which follows state and local politics in Michigan from a progressive point of view,pointed out Friday that the 550 emails include other tidbits. Among them is the fact that Snyder’s former chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, pushed for buying $250,000 of bottled water from Nestlé-owned Mountain Ice, a company where his wife works as a lobbyist and public relations consultant.
Savage also took note of Snyder’s announcement that he is replacing his communications director with Ari Adler, who was press secretary to the former speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, Republican Jase Bolger:
Given the sensitivity of the issue at hand – poisoning children with an odorless, tasteless, invisible neurotoxin – you would expect Gov. Snyder to choose a communications director known for tact and diplomacy. Instead, the self-described super-CEO chose a man about as tactless as they come. Ari Adler’s history is one of repeated gaffes and insulting remarks towards people who don’t agree with him or his bosses. […]
In other words, if you’re looking for a thoughtful, measured, compassionate spokesperson for the governor of Michigan, he’s exactly the last person you’d select. It’s a testament to just how flailing and reactionary Gov. Snyder has become. He clearly has no idea what he’s doing so he’s rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Meanwhile people in Flint have seen precisely ZERO lead water service lines removed in their beleaguered city in the 148 days since Gov. Snyder admitted their water was poisoned.
That dearth of good leadership in the Michigan governor’s office is obviously compounded by a lack of common sense.