On January 13, 2016, Michigan governor Rick Snyder held a press conference to announce the “discovery” of an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the city of Flint.
According to officials in the Snyder administration, there have been 87 confirmed cases of the disease. Ten people have died as a result.
Legionnaire’s disease is caused by a deadly waterborne bacteria, called Legionella.
Unlike lead poisoning, the other major water-related health crisis now facing the people of Flint, Legionnaire’s disease is not caused by drinking contaminated water. Instead, the bacteria enters the body through the lungs, via water droplets in the air.
On Wednesday Snyder officials claimed that they can neither confirm or deny that the outbreak is linked to the city’s contaminated water supply.
As The Atlantic reports here, the outbreak began shortly after the Snyder administration switched the city of Flint’s water supply to the Flint River.
According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease occurs when two or more people are infected with the bacteria.
In Flint, almost ninety people are known to have been infected by the disease between June 2014 and November 2015.
What’s infuriating about the Legionnaire’s outbreak in Flint is that officials in the Snyder administration certainly knew about it long before Wednesday’s press conference. Yet they said nothing until now.
As reported here, between June 2014 to March 2015, the number of confirmed cases of Legionnaire’s Disease in Flint skyrocketed.
During the previous five years the city saw a fairly steady number of cases of the disease, which averaged about eight to ten cases during a ten month reporting period.
But by March of 2015, the number of confirmed cases had spiked to 4x the prior average. Between June 2014 and March 2015, there were 45 confirmed cases of the disease. Seven people died from Legionnaire’s Disease during that ten month period.
Yet after seeing this sudden increase, officials in the Snyder administration took no action. There was no effort made to identify a possible source, although the Center for Disease Control provides specific guidelines for doing so. The public was also not notified that there was an outbreak, although the state health department knew, or should have known, at least by March of last year, if not sooner.
Between March of 2015 and November of 2015, another 42 cases of Legionnaire’s Disease were confirmed in Flint. Three more people died after being exposed to the waterborne bacteria.
Still there was no mention of an outbreak until January 13, 2016.
Snyder’s press conference on Wednesday was the first time any official made mention of a Legionnaire’s outbreak in the city, although at least ten deaths have been caused by the disease.
State officials virtually ignored this deadly outbreak for almost a year. Then all of the sudden, on Wednesday, Governor Snyder called a press conference to inform the public that there is an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the city.
The question of how state officials could have just now discovered something that has been going on for this long may not be difficult to answer.
Last week the federal government announced a Justice Department probe into the Flint water crisis. The announcement followed an investigation by the ACLU, which revealed that state officials had falsified documents and rigged tests to cover up the fact that the city’s water is contaminated with lead.
Over 200 children are confirmed to have lead poisoning because of the actions of Snyder and his appointed representatives. An additional 9,000 children are likely to be impacted. The number of adults who are affected is currently unknown, but likely stretches into the thousands.
A Justice Department investigation into the Flint water crisis would undoubtedly reveal that the Snyder administration concealed information on the Legionnaire’s outbreak from the public.
What else has Rick Snyder’s administration been hiding and lying about? We may never know.
Just as the Snyder administration was coming under intense scrutiny over the city’s toxic water, someone allegedly broke into Flint City Hall. As Addicting Info reported here, the break-in conveniently targeted the vacant office where Flint’s water records are stored.
According to the CDC, a state health agency is responsible to conduct an investigation into the source of an Legionnaire’s outbreak. Such an investigation is advised by the CDC any time there is an increase in the number of people who are diagnosed with the disease or an increase in the severity of cases (such as when the disease causes hospitalizations and deaths.)
Outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease, such the one happening in Flint, would require an immediate investigation to determine the source as well as an urgent response from the state health department.
Because of the timing and severity of the outbreak, which directly coincided with the switch of the water source, public health officials should have started an investigation into the source of the bacteria months ago. Instead they did nothing.
State officials say they haven’t made a “direct connection” between the city’s contaminated water and the outbreak of the disease. That’s more than likely because they never tried to identify the source of the outbreak. They just ignored it.
Watch this video, recorded by club937 in January of last year, which shows the quality of the city’s water.
We know that the water in Flint is contaminated with lead, a substance that causes a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, especially in children. We also know that the citizens of Flint were repeatedly told by the governor and members of his administration that the water was perfectly safe to drink.
What’s most frightening about the possibility that the city’s water is the cause of the outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease is that people do not have to drink it to be exposed to the bacteria. This bacteria is associated with inhaling water particles, meaning that people can become deathly sick from simply bathing, showering, washing their hands or performing other tasks that most of us take for granted.
Handing out bottled drinking water and lead filters isn’t going to cut it.
I cannot think of a single reason why the people of Flint would trust anything that Governor Snyder or members of his administration tell them about the water. They have been told lie after lie by this administration, ever since the city’s water source was switched to the Flint River.
What we can already say about the Legionnaire’s outbreak is that state officials were aware of it months ago, yet they took no steps to protect public health. Ten people are dead.
Snyder says he’s not sure if the city’s water is responsible for those deaths. That acknowledgment alone is enough to cause public outrage. It is his job to know. It was his job to know back in March, when there were already seven deaths attributed to this disease. But he didn’t give a shit back in March. You know why? Because the federal government was not investigating Flint’s water crisis back in March.
Snyder and every member of his administration has got to go. Every shred of trust the public may have had in this administration is gone. It will never be back. No amount of PR from the governor’s office is ever going to repair this.
These are life and death issues for Flint residents. They need answers that they can trust, and they deserve to have representation that they can trust as they try to navigate their way through this incalculable nightmare.
It was bad when they couldn’t drink the water. Now there’s a new threat looming over their heads, and that threat comes from the possibility that any contact with the water whatsoever could cause them to become deathly ill.
These citizens cannot be expected to look to the same people who caused this disaster for answers now. They cannot be asked to trust the same administration that has lied to them over and over in the past, to tell them the truth now.
Snyder and his administration are now saying they aren’t sure if the city’s water killed ten people. They don’t exactly know if the water is safe to shower in, bathe in, wash your hands in. That’s what they’re saying now, when last week they said they were sure the water was safe for all of those things.
At least a dozen petitions to recall Governor Rick Snyder have been filed in recent days. The Michigan Board of State Canvassers continues to throw the recall Snyder petitions out.
Oddly enough the right wing majority board had no problem approving two Tea-Party backed recall petitions targeting state legislatures who voted in favor of a tax increase to help repair the state’s dangerously neglected roads.
To the citizens of Michigan I would ask, how many people have to get sick, and how many children have to be poisoned, and how many deaths have to be counted, before partisan political bullshit takes a backseat to the health and safety of your fellow citizens?
You need to get this man, and every member of his blatantly corrupt administration out of office.
*Featured image credit: Video screen capture club937.com