The independent task force created by Michigan governor Rick Snyder in October 2015 released its 62-page report examining Flint’s water crisis this week.
Flint has been in a state of emergency over lead-contaminated water since the Michigan city changed its water source from Lake Huron to Flint River. The river water is corrosive and caused lead to leach into the water supplied to homes.
Michigan officials are responsible for the Flint water crisis, governor-appointed panel says https://t.co/z1oXMDi2Xe pic.twitter.com/DvaPjWhCHi
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) March 23, 2016
Report: ‘MDEQ bears primary responsibility’
The task force states that primary responsibility lies with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which suffers from “cultural shortcomings” preventing it from protecting Michigan residents.
Flint Water Advisory Task Force finds state "fundamentally accountable" for Flint's water emergency #FlintWaterhttps://t.co/ooUpdutIP2
— ABC12WJRT (@ABC12WJRT) March 23, 2016
The report states that MDEQ misinterpreted the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule, which says action must be taken if lead is detected over 15 parts per billion. According to samples taken in Flint, several homes were over 100 parts per billion.
These levels were under-reported and residents had prolonged exposure to high levels of lead, the report states.
The task force also says responsibility for the failure to investigate the possible link between the Flint River water and the high number of Legionnaires disease in Flint rests with the department, along with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Genesee County Health Department.
10th death in Flint-area Legionnaires’ cases came 3 months after state health official declared outbreak "over" https://t.co/ZAfA4N4Tdp
— Chad Livengood (@ChadLivengood) March 19, 2016
MDHHS lacked ‘understanding of its own data’ on lead levels for children
The task force primarily blames MDHHS and GCHD for not following up in a timely fashion with testing lead levels in the blood of children who had been exposed to lead.
MDHHS bears responsibility for “leadership and coordination of timely follow-up efforts” in child lead poisoning, according to the report.
The report also states that virtually all of the state and local departments had poor communication with each other to address the public’s concerns about the drinking water.
Emergency manger role ‘places primary accountability’ along with MDEQ
One major recommendation of the independent task force was for a review of Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law, which lets a state-appointed individual take over a city in times of fiscal difficulties.
Flint water task force calls for review of emergency manager law https://t.co/Tg42D0zMNC pic.twitter.com/JLdmYfIz41
— MLive (@MLive) March 23, 2016
The report stated: “Emergency managers charged with financial reform often do not have, nor are they supported by, the necessary expertise to manage non-financial aspects of municipal government.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Governor Snyder defended the Emergency Manager Law: “I think the law has value. Overall, can it be improved? I’m always open to that discussion and I appreciate the recommendations and I look forward to talking with the legislature about that at some point in the future.”
Governor’s office ‘continued to rely on incorrect information’
The task force also places blame on the governor’s office. It states that Governor Snyder’s knowledge of the water crisis was “compromised” by wrong information given by MDEQ and MDHHS.
The report also points to suggestions made in an email from October 2014 that the city should switch back to the previous water source. The task force states that this should have resulted in a full review of the water situation.
The city also bears some responsibility, the report states, as much of its infrastructure was ill-prepared for the water switch.
The EPA failed to exercise any authority — despite having it — before January 2016, according to the report. It also states that the EPA deferred to MDEQ, which delayed fixing the problems.
Image: Conor Ralph/MLive.com