On November 4, officials with the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a dire warning for Flint, Michigan residents concerning the threat of a new, large-scale lead release into the city’s water supply.
In spite of the fact that the city’s water has been reconnected to the Detroit water supply, EPA officials say that the switch back is not likely to fix damage that has already been done. Instead the agency warns of an accumulation of lead within the city’s service lines, which has the potential to “release large amounts of scale and sediment that could pose an immediate and acute health hazard to the residents.”
The federal warning comes after more than 18 months of inaction on the part of Michigan officials. That alone would be enough for citizens to be outraged. But new revelations about the Flint water crisis show that republican Governor Rick Snyder and members of his administration did more than just ignore the problem. They purposely concealed it.
On November 7, Environmental activist and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich posted the photos of documents obtained by the ACLU of Michigan, showing officials in the Snyder administration purposely altered documents that were submitted to the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection.
According to Curt Guyette of the Michigan ACLU, officials inside the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality violated federal law on several occasions, in order to make it appear that Flint’s drinking was safe, when the states own test results showed otherwise.
As Guyette reports here, the ACLU’s investigation shows that the agency fail to collect the mandatory 100 samples required under federal law.
“To remain in compliance, the city must test residential water samples in two rounds, both which last six months each, as part of what is known as the “90th Percentile Lead and Copper Rule” test.
Under federal rules, the city would fail to meet compliance if more than 10 percent of the samples gathered during the two rounds of tests show water toxicity above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. The city would then be required to immediately alert the public to the problem and start steps to reduce lead in water.
If at least 90 percent of the samples are under 15 ppb, the city can claim that its water meets federal safety standards. Based on the way it conducted its test, the city and state were able to claim that Flint met federal compliance standards.
Last year, from June to December, the city conducted a first round of testing of 100 homes. A second round of testing lasted from January 2015 to last June.
According to documents obtained by the ACLU through Freedom of Information Act requests, the second round of testing ended with only 71 samples collected by the city, instead of the 100 minimum required during the first round.
The MDEQ responded by deciding—after the fact—that, because Flint’s population is less than 100,000, only 60 homes would have to be tested.”
Officials also purposely omitted some samples that tested above the EPA limit for lead, in order to avoid raising red flags at the EPA.
The ACLU reports that the home of Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters was tested at least four times during a five month period. In February 2015 the water at Walters home had lead levels of 104 parts per billion, far above the limit for safe drinking water. The ACLU investigation uncovered results of a second test at Walters’ home, which found levels of 700 ppb.
Guyette reports that Walters was never informed of the second test that was conducted on her water, another illegal action.
Per the ACLU report:
“The first test of her water’s home – the one that found lead levels of 104 ppb — was supposed to have been included in the samples used for the EPA compliance testing. However, that test was deleted from the sample pool, ostensibly because her home has a whole house water filter, according to a hand-written note on a MDEQ document obtained through FOIA.
But Walters said that, under instruction from the city, the filter was disabled before the test was conducted and so the results from her home should have been included in the city’s findings.
Excluding the data from Walters’ water samples also helped the city and state claim that Flint is in compliance with the federal rules on water safety.
Walters says that after the contaminated water in her home led to health complications among her family members, she began to seek out other officials who might help her address the problem. Walters eventually ran across a bureaucrat she says “actually cares,” Miguel Del Toral, a water expert with the EPA’s Region V office headquartered in Chicago.
After coming to Flint earlier this year to personally inspect the Walters’ home and make sure there was no source of lead in its internal plumbing, Del Toral helped connect Walters with Edwards at Virginia Tech. Together, they conducted an independent test that found lead levels as high as 13,500 pbb, more than two-and-a-half times the 5,000 pbb levels of lead at which water is classified as hazardous waste.
Walters also made an even more heartbreaking discovery: One of her children was lead poisoned. Only age four, his IQ has been reduced, and he faces the prospect of learning disabilities and behavioral issues as a result of his exposure to lead, according to Walters.”
Possibly the most damning information turned up during the ACLU investigation, however, shows how Snyder officials purposely skewed the testing by collecting a large number of samples from an area of the city that was least likely to show a problem.
As Guyette reports here:
On June 25—five days before the deadline to complete the collection of second-round testing samples—MDEQ official Adam Rosenthal sent an email to Utilities Director Mike Glasgow, alerting Glasgow to the concern.
“We hope you have 61 more lead/copper samples collected and sent to the lab by 6/30/15, and that they will be below the AL [Action Level] for lead,” wrote Rosenthal. “As of now with 39 results, Flint’s 90th percentile is over the AL for lead.”
The ACLU goes on to explain how officials managed to rig the test results.
For one thing, city officials zeroed in on a single section of Flushing Road, on Flint’s northwest side. Seven homes – nearly 25 percent of those tested at the end of June – were clustered together on Flushing. Residents interviewed by the ACLU of Michigan said they were approached by a city official and asked to have their water tested. One of the residents said the person who approached them was a neighbor employed by the city’s water department.
As with the other homes tested during that span, the Flushing Road homes came in well-below the action levels. None registered higher than 6 ppb, and three had no detectable levels of lead at all.
Why would the city focus on that particular street?
City documents obtained by the ACLU of Michigan via FOIA requests give clues. Among those documents is a map of recent city projects reveals that the city replaced a long section of water main along Flushing Ave. in 2007.
According to Marc Edwards, a civil and environmental engineering professor who led the recent study of Flint water at Virginia Tech University, there are two reasons the testing was done this way.
“One is that, as explained in a recent peer-reviewed paper, water mains with iron corrosion also tend to have more lead in the water. The other is that it’s common practice to replace lead service lines when a water main is replaced.
“For both those reasons, you are likely to find much less lead in” the homes on Flushing Road explained Edwards. “If you wanted to minimize the likelihood of finding lead in water, this is where you would concentrate your sampling.”
The way the samples were collected is also illegal. Federal law mandates that samples be collected from areas of the city which are most likely to be affected. Instead, it appears that Snyder officials purposely sought out an area of the city that was least likely to show a problem, and collected a large portion of the samples from that area only.
Federal law also requires water samples be collected from homes that previously tested above the safe drinking water limit for lead. Instead, samples were only collected from homes that tested low in 2014.
Thanks to the Michigan ACLU there is more than enough evidence to show that Michigan officials deliberately colluded to deceive the public. In doing so they caused immeasurably harm to thousands of Flint citizens, mainly of them infants and children. This cannot simply be another miserable GOP failure that “blows over” with time.
While the mainstream media pushes the narrative that what happened in Flint was “a government mistake” the ACLU investigation shows that the fake testing of the city’s water was no mistake or “unfortunate accident.” This was a calculated plan to keep federal agencies and the public in the dark about the city’s toxic water.
It’s time for the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department to open criminal investigations into the actions of officials at every level of the Snyder administration.
*Featured image credit: Erin Brockovich via Facebook