EPA defends Flint water crisis response



WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday defended the Obama administration’s handling of a crisis in Flint, Michigan with lead-contaminated drinking water.

Speaking to reporters after an event at a Washington soup kitchen, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy defended the federal government’s response.

“EPA did its job but clearly the outcome was not what anyone would have wanted. So we’re going to work with the state, we’re going to work with Flint. We’re going to take care of the problem,” McCarthy told reporters. “We know Flint is a situation that never should have happened.”


This is primarily a failure of local city officials and the governor who only now, after more than a year of pleas from citizens of Flint, has finally called out the National Guard and started responding. But Flint is going to suffer decades of long term effects from children drinking leaded water.


I actually somewhat agree.


It looks like an interdepartmental mess of petty squabbling.


In 2013, the Flint city council voted 7-1 to switch from treated water being purchased from Detroit Michigan to obtaining water from Lake Huron utilizing an antiquated pipe system. All in the name of saving money. I cannot find any evidence of a trial period of testing prior to fully switching over. Although, I would like to believe this was done at some point, prior to the switch. The result two years later is an EPA disaster. Flint residents are being exposed to contaminated water, with levels of lead that will undoubtedly prove to be toxic on several levels. If there is any blame here, it is those seven officials who decided that saving money was worth this type of risk. Too bad.


A small correction – the previous water was from Lake Huron (delivered by the Detroit water system) and the new one intended to save money draws from the Flint River (which eventually drains into Lake Huron).


That’s very different than I heard during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. Some folks couldn’t wait to blame the president. :rolleyes:

The point is if the goal is to blame the as high of a ranking of the opposite political party as possible, (ie politicize the crisis), why bother even having local government?

So I think people need to take responsibility and do their jobs.

I really hope nothing happens to those kids. What a bizarre, unfortunate thing to have happen in a First World country.

Detroit gets a lot of attention, but Flint isn’t in great shape either.


The issue in this case is that the Local Government didn’t make the decision. The city council rejected the proposal to switch to the Flint River, but Snyder’s appointed Emergency Manager did it anyway. Worse yet, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (run by a Snyder appointee) knew about the dangerous levels of lead but falsified documents and rigged test results to conceal it from the public. The most damning part of this is that there is evidence the Snyder administration also knew in 2014 there was a connection between the water and the Legionnaires outbreak, but kept it on the hush. This is less a matter of blame than holding people accountable for what they did to people of Flint.


There was a period of one year. When the City of Flint announced that it was going to switch over to a closer, regional water source, the plan was to take two years to implement. The very next day after Flint announced that it was going to move away from relying on Detroit, the Detroit Water Department cancelled the water service, effective one year. That left Flint with a year to do what it was originally planning on doing in two.

So it fired up a 50 year old water treatment plant and began to use water from the Flint river

Now this was not bad, in and of itself, the water was no different that an a lot of cities use.

But what Flint failed to do was to monitor the Ph levels. In Flint, there are a number of older buildings that have lead soldered pipes. The higher Ph levels in the water contributed to the dissolving of the lead into the water in certain buildings.

On the State level, the testing program was error prone and not in line with general standards. There were supposed to be a certain number of tests from older buildings, which did not happen, and would have shown the lead problems earlier. Also, the tests were not consistent, the test are supposed to be done from the same taps each test, they were not.

Here is a relatively non-partisan description of the problem



Your analogy with Katrina is lacking in this respect. With Katrina, the attention of the entire nation was immediately aware of the problems in Louisiana, and the federal response was supposedly set in motion at the same time. The criticism was over the kind of federal response, and over the previous work of the Army Corps of Engineers.

In the case of the Flint water crisis, that story has been a local story for most of its history, most likely not even coming to the attention of the President. Being from Michigan, I was aware of the story a lot earlier, but it only became a national story recently. And the degree of prior federal involvement with Flint’s water system was nothing like the prior federal involvement in building levees around the Mississippi River.

I realize it would serve your purpose to turn every story into a condemnation of Obama, but this story just isn’t the one to do that.

Finally, I am not laying the bulk of the blame on Governor Synder. Even if he responded as soon as the crisis reached his office, the bulk of the damage was already done. It is clearly a failure mostly of local officials.


In both Katrina and Flint there is a move to blame it on the federal Govt when the primary owner of the mess is state and local Govt. Going any deeper on Katrina is a red herring IMHO


I wondered how they got away with this. My father was the chair of the water district commission in my hometown for over a decade. I recall the hoops they constantly jumped through to commission new water mains, upgrade existing pressure tanks, and drilling new wells. The state and the federal government were constantly breathing down their necks. Despite the fact that the district had several policies and were mandated by law to maintain water quality, the state and the federal government (mostly the state) were constantly auditing and ordering testing. If my father were alive today I’m sure he’d be flabbergasted that such a think as Flint could have occurred.

And it could only have occurred with government corruption. And only with the government are we likely to see very little fallout. I think everyone knows darn well that if this were a private water system there would be calls for jailing the CEO’s and multi-billion dollar lawsuits. There will be lawsuits here. And there may even be a prison term for those in leadership positions. The difference here is that we aren’t seeing the political rhetoric we’d see if this were a private organization. I’m waiting for Bernie Sanders or Nancy Pelosi to get on MSNBC and denounce the greed of the local government (“They endangered the lives of thousands of people for a few bucks! Outrageous!”). Good for Mrs Clinton speaking out; it’s the first thing she’s done this campaign I think is consistent and praiseworthy.


You are correct. My mistake.



Are you a Flint native? If so, you may know more than others. According to this article in 2013, the city council did not reject the proposal. To completely blame state officials is simply inaccurate. while they may not have helped the situation, they certainly were not alone in initiating it.


Thank you. This appears to be closer to the items I have read, as well. It is unfortunate that Ph levels were ignored.


The same people who intentionally polluted a Colorado river, and hid the results of testing in Flint, are going to fix this problem?

Don’t hold your breath.


If Michigan State elected or appointed took inappropriate action, they need to be held accountable. The City of Flint is also responsible through its elected and appointed and need to be held accountable. The citizens of Flint are not up to overseeing their politicians, much to their loss like the rest of our country. The children are suffering as a result and that is flat bad. The people that live there, own or rent need to take the first line of protection of their families, homes and neighborhoods. That would be such a good thing. BUT will it happen? It could, but the lack of citizen responsibility is evident in most big industrial cities.

Probably, placing something important enough as your drinking water in the hands of unknown strangers, who may or may not take their job conscientiously, is dangerous. I fear that public education via the “media” has contributed to this ignorance. When city, town, county, township, village, schools, parks, traffic, roads, bridges, elec power, gas lines, ALL that stuff gets too big to keep a close eye on (tax spending).

How much and how easy is it to get the water checked from your homes? It used to be easy but in the last 25 years it has been lost to bureaucracies. The bigger the bureaucracy the more it costs and the less it delivers. So personal responsibility needs to be refreshed and the testing of water made accessible to all.

Side note: Politics= mayor goes to Washington D.C. to call on Valerie Jarred who is going to appoint a Water Czar.


I am not a Flint native, but I have been watching this issue for a long time. It should first be pointed out that both the city council and mayor were stripped of their decision making authority when Snyder appointed the Emergency Manager. The city council considered the issues and voted on resolutions, but all of the decision making authority rested with the Emergency Manager. He ignored the city council resolution to use KWA as the primary water source and he and he alone made the decision to make the Flint River the primary source of water for Flint as this resolution proves.


Oh, but they’re very anxious to regulate every creek, farm pond and dry wash in the country. If the government has its way, Farmer Jones will not dare to put rocks in a gully that threatens his field with erosion because, well, those rocks came from elsewhere on his farm and might somehow affect the waters of the U.S. But Flint? Let them drink lead.


Maybe I am missing something here, but the resolution you posted has several approval signatures on it, including one from finance and an engineer, not just the Emergency Manager.
Are you saying the others were coerced or forced into signing the document?
Also, I don’t find any verbiage that reflects the city council were completely absolved of any decision making. Had they not made the original decision to forego the purchase of water from Detroit, perhaps the entire sequence of events would not have occurred.


The first two signatures are there to validate that the legal language and financial text of the document are correct. The only other signatures are those of the Emergency Manager (who is the only one with the authority to approve or disapprove) and two of his staff he appointed.

You’ll find that here:

“Upon appointment, an emergency manager shall act for and in the place and stead of the governing body and the office of chief administrative officer of the local government. The emergency manager shall have broad powers in receivership to rectify the financial emergency and to assure the fiscal accountability of the local government and the local government’s capacity to provide or cause to be provided necessary governmental services essential to the public health, safety, and welfare. Following appointment of an emergency manager and during the pendency of receivership, the governing body and the chief administrative officer of the local government shall not exercise any of the powers of those offices except as may be specifically authorized in writing by the emergency manager or as otherwise provided by this act and are subject to any conditions required by the emergency manager.”

The original decision by the city (which wasn’t really optional or their decision because the contract with Detroit had expired and the EM rejected their offer to extend it) does not justify the State knowingly poisoning the city’s residents for 18 months, falsifying documents and manipulating tests to conceal the truth from the public, or not providing an alternative aside from buying bottled water.

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