The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top Midwest official knew about the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan for months before telling the public, according to The Detroit News.
EPA official Susan Hedman became aware of the contamination issue in April, but instead decided to seek legal opinion on whether they could even act rather than take quick and decisive action. That legal opinion didn’t come until November 2014 — seven months later.
Meanwhile, she kept her mouth shut as thousands of Flint residents unknowingly were poisoning themselves with lead-tainted tap water. Flint residents’ water was so bad, one test recorded levels that the EPA classifies as “TOXIC WASTE.” At least one 4 year old was diagnosed with lead poisoning.
An EPA water expert, Miguel Del Toral, identified potential problems with Flint’s drinking water in February, confirmed the suspicions in April and summarized the looming problem in a June internal memo. The state decided in October to change Flint’s drinking water source from the corrosive Flint River back to the Detroit water system.
The corrosive nature of Flint’s drinking water is causing lead from pipes and pathogens to get into the town’s water supply, according to a study by Virginia Tech. Flint is currently dealing with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a dangerous infection that usually spreads through a tainted water source.
Nearly two years ago, the state of Michigan decided to save money by switching Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to a local river. The state of Michigan, however, applied the wrong standards for governing drinking water, resulting in a system that did not properly control corrosion. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder activated the National Guard Tuesday to help distribute bottled water and filters to the 100,000 residents of Flint.
A class-action lawsuit against Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality alleges that the state wasn’t treating Flint’s water with an anti-corrosive agent, a violation of federal law.
“At that point, you do not just have smoke, you have a three-alarm fire and should respond immediately,” Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher whose analysis helped uncover the lead contamination, told The Detroit News. “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.”