WASHINGTON (AP) — Michigan’s top environmental regulator says the state should have required the city of Flint to treat its water for corrosion after elevated lead levels were first discovered in the city’s water a year ago.
Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said state officials “relied on technical compliance (with the law) instead of assuring safe drinking water.” He called that a mistake.
In prepared testimony for a congressional hearing Wednesday, Creagh said the state did not require corrosion treatment after officials noticed elevated lead levels in the city’s water in January 2015. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Creagh’s testimony in advance of the hearing, the first on Capitol Hill since the lead contamination crisis in Flint erupted last year.
Flint switched its water source from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014 to save money while under state financial management. The river water was not treated properly and lead from pipes leached into Flint homes.
While immediate treatment of the water was not required under federal law, “corrosion treatment should have been required by the MDEQ,” said Creagh, who took over as head of the state agency last month following the resignation of Dan Wyant.
On Tuesday, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver told reporters she wants lead pipes removed from the city’s water distribution system as soon as possible. She said she would like to start the pipe-removal process at the “highest-risk homes of kids under 6 and pregnant women.”
Also, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s office told The Associated Press he will propose $30 million in state funding to help pay the water bills of Flint residents.
Creagh said all levels of government deserve blame in the Flint crisis.
City officials did not follow proper protocol in conducting lead sampling of homes, he said, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “did not display the sense of urgency that the situation demanded.”
A June 2015 memo by an employee in EPA’s Midwest regional office was not formally delivered to state environmental officials until November — after the state had begun taking actions to address the lead problem, Creagh said.
“Legitimate concerns raised by EPA’s own expert staff were not elevated or provided to either the city or the state for review and action until after the state’s response was well underway,” Creagh said.
Creagh and Joel Beauvais, acting chief of the EPA’s water office, are among those scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Detroit schools emergency manager Darnell Earley, who was state-appointed emergency manager for Flint when its water source was switched, had been asked to testify at Wednesday’s hearing but declined. The oversight committee issued a subpoena to Earley on Tuesday but his lawyer refused service, a committee staffer said.
The hearing comes as the FBI said it is working with a multi-agency team investigating the lead contamination in Flint.
FBI spokeswoman Jill Washburn told the AP in an email that the agency is “investigating the matter to determine if there have been any federal violations.” She declined to say when the FBI got involved.
Officials haven’t said whether criminal or civil charges might follow the investigation.
Several local, state and federal officials have resigned since doctors revealed last year that using the Flint River for the city’s drinking water supply caused elevated levels of lead in some children’s blood. Lead contamination has been linked to learning disabilities and other problems. Michigan’s governor has apologized repeatedly for the state’s role.
In addition to the FBI and the EPA, the federal team includes the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said Gina Balaya, a U.S. attorney’s spokeswoman in Detroit.
In November, the EPA announced it was auditing how Michigan enforces drinking water rules and said it would identify how to strengthen state oversight. The U.S. attorney’s office in Detroit said in January that it was investigating the water crisis with the EPA.
An independent panel appointed by Snyder has determined that the state Department of Environmental Quality was primarily responsible for the water contamination. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission also plans to hold hearings to explore whether the civil rights of Flint residents were violated.
Associated Press writer Mike Householder in Flint, Michigan, contributed to this report.