Author Topic: Flint water crisis: five officials charged with involuntary manslaughter  (Read 1086 times)

Offline imchills

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About time.

Five Michigan officials, including the head of the state health department, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the crisis over lead poisoning in drinking water in Flint.

The charges are related to the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, one of a dozen Flint residents who contracted Legionnaires’ disease and died after the city’s water source was changed to save money.

“This is a case where there’s been a wilful disregard of just using ordinary due diligence,” said Todd Flood, special prosecutor for the office of the Michigan attorney general, which is leading the investigation. “I have come to see there are two types of people in this world – those that give a damn, and those that don’t.”

Attorney general Bill Schuette presented the charges as a turning point in the investigation into water contamination in Flint, which has continued for more than a year. He said investigators would now focus on trying 17 officials who face criminal charges.

Flint’s drinking water was tainted with lead and legionella bacteria, investigators said, after a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source from the city of Detroit to the Flint river, without taking proper precautions against pipe corrosion.

The change resulted in a legionella outbreak between 2014 and 2015. Roughly 100 people became ill and 12 are believed to have died. Top health officials in the state knew about the outbreak for months, investigators said, but did nothing to warn the public.

“People in Flint have died as a result of the decisions made with those charged to protect the health and safety of those individuals,” said Schuette. “It’s about restoring accountability and trust to the families of Flint.”

Skidmore was described as a “family man” with three sons, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He worked at General Motors’ Fisher body plant for 37 years.

Republican governor Rick Snyder has not been charged, despite the alleged involvement of his cabinet in suppressing information. Schuette said his team had attempted to interview the governor, without success.

“I know a question I will get today is: ‘Why aren’t you charging Governor Snyder?’” said Schuette. “And I’ve met with some who say I’ve been too hard on the Snyder administration. Well, so be it.”

Seventeen people have been charged in total. The head of the state health department, Nick Lyon, was charged on Wednesdaywith involuntary manslaughter for failing to warn the public about the legionella outbreak. The top medical official, Dr Eden Wells, was charged with misconduct in office for allegedly threatening to withhold funding for a research project after researchers started looking into the legionella outbreak.

Schuette’s office also added manslaughter to charges faced by four people: Michigan department of environment regional supervisor Stephen Busch; state head of drinking water Liane Shekter-Smith; Howard Croft, a former director of public works for Flint; and the emergency manager who ordered the water switch, Darnell Earley.

Lyon and Wells will remain at the state department of health while they await trial. In a statement, Snyder said Lyon was “a strong leader” and added that he and Dr Wells were “instrumental in Flint’s recovery”. The governor also criticized the delay faced by other state officials waiting to go to trial. “This is not justice for Flint nor for those who have been charged.”

“These charges reflect the deaths that occurred,” said Schuette. “I owe that to the citizens of Flint … the moms and dads who wanted to give their kids a cool drink of water [yesterday] – it was 90F – but they didn’t because they were fearful of the water.”

As part of a settlement, a judge recently ordered Michigan to set aside $97m to replace lead lines in Flint, as the city attempts to rebuild. As Schuette noted: “Many families still drink, cook and bathe only with bottled water.”

Offline Battle

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Thursday, 20th August 2o2o
Michigan to pay $600 million to Flint water crisis victims
by Kanishka Singh and Clarence Fernandez

The U.S. state of Michigan has reached a settlement to pay about $600 million to victims of the Flint water crisis, three newspapers said late on Wednesday, citing unidentified sources.

The settlement will be announced this week, the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal said.

Most of the amount will be allocated for children who suffered from lead-tainted tapwater after officials switched the city’s water supply six years ago, they added.

About 80% is to go to residents younger than 18 between April 25, 2014 and July 31, 2016, the Wall Street Journal said, estimating the number of such claims between 7,500 and 20,000.

The rest will go to plaintiffs in other types of lawsuits, such as those for property damage and loss of revenue.

The settlement is subject to approval by a federal judge in Michigan, the New York Times said.

The Washington Post said the plaintiffs’ lawyers reached a deal last week with Michigan lawyers on behalf of Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Whitmer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In January, the Supreme Court let Flint residents pursue a civil rights lawsuit accusing the city and government officials of knowingly allowing the water supply to become contaminated with lead.

Flint switched its public water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River to cut costs during a financial crisis.

But the corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes, and the city switched back to Lake Huron water the following year.

More than 25,000 people were harmed through exposure to contaminants in Flint, including more than 5,000 children younger than 12, court records showed as of January.

« Last Edit: August 20, 2020, 11:27:37 am by Battle »

Offline Battle

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Saturday, 3rd April Twenty One
We sampled tap water across the US—and found arsenic, lead and toxic chemicals
by Ryan Felton, Lisa Gill & Lewis Kendall

In Connecticut, a condo had lead in its drinking water at levels more than double what the federal government deems acceptable.

At a church in North Carolina, the water was contaminated with extremely high levels of potentially toxic PFAS chemicals (a group of compounds found in hundreds of household products).

The water flowing into a Texas home had both – and concerning amounts of arsenic too.

All three were among locations that had water tested as part of a nine-month investigation by Consumer Reports (CR) and the Guardian into the US’s drinking water.

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, access to safe water for all Americans has been a US government goal.

Yet millions of people continue to face serious water quality problems because of contamination, deteriorating infrastructure, and inadequate treatment at water plants.

CR and the Guardian selected 120 people from around the US, out of a pool of more than 6,000 volunteers, to test for arsenic, lead, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), and other contaminants.

The samples came from water systems that together service more than 19 million people.

A total of 118 of the 120 samples had concerning levels of PFAS or arsenic above CR’s recommended maximum, or detectable amounts of lead.

Testing of the samples showed:

More than 35% of the samples had PFAS, potentially toxic “forever chemicals”, at levels above CR’s recommended maximum.

About 8% of samples had arsenic, at levels above CR’s recommended maximum.

In total, 118 out of 120 samples had detectable levels of lead.

Where we tested

Volunteers from 36 states plus Washington, D.C., teamed up with CR and the Guardian to test drinking water quality from 120 sites across the country.

Alexandria, VA

Allen, TX

Altavista, VA

Anchorage, AK

Apache Junction, AZ

Arizona City, AZ

Austin, TX

Baltimore, MD

Beaverton, OR

Bennington, VT

Bethlehem, PA

Bloomfield, NJ

Boise, ID

Boston, MA

Bountiful, UT

Brooklyn, NY

Broomfield, CO

Cazenovia, NY

Cedar Falls, IA

Clearfield, UT

Colorado Springs, CO

Columbia Falls, MT

Conifer, CO

Dayton, OH

Del Norte, CO

Denver, CO

Des Moines, IA

Detroit, MI (2)

Dexter, MO

Duvall, WA

East Lansing, MI

East Orange, NJ

Eden, NY

Edwardsville, IL

El Dorado, KS

Fall City, WA

Floresville, TX

Florida, NY

Fort Morgan, CO

Fort Smith, AR

Fox Island, WA

Ft. Pierce, FL

Gahanna, OH

Guthrie, OK

Hartford, CT

High Bridge, NJ

Highlands Ranch, CO

Holyoke, MA

Houston, TX (2)

Huxley, IA

Issaquah, WA

Jacksonville, FL

Jensen Beach, FL

Joplin, MO

Kansas City, MO

Lakeland, FL

Lawrence Twp, NJ

Lawton, OK

Lincoln, NE

Littleton, MA

Lompoc, CA

Manchester, NH

Merced, CA

Millsboro, DE

Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukie, OR

Minden, NV

Minneapolis, MN

Montclair, NJ

Monument, CO

Nashville, TN

New Britain, CT

New Lebanon, OH

New Rochelle, NY

Newtown, PA

Oakhurst, CA

Ocala, FL

Oceanside, CA

Odenton, MD

Oxnard, CA

Pensacola, FL

Pittsboro, NC (2)

Portland, OR (3)

River Head, NY

Rockville, MD

Rocky Hill, NJ

Round Rock, TX

Salina, KS

Salt Lake City, UT

San Antonio, TX

Santa Ana, CA

Scottsdale, AZ

Seattle, WA

Sedona, AZ

Sellersville, PA

Sharpsville, PA

Shelburne, VT

Simsbury, CT

Southampton, PA

Southport, NC

Spring, TX

Sunderland, MA

Tampa, FL

The Woodlands, TX

Trinity, AL

Washington, MO

Washington, D.C.

Washington, IA

Wayne, NE

Westerville, OH

Westfield, MA

Westminster, CA

Williamsburg, MA

Ypsilanti, MI (2)

Arsenic: a toxin in the water

More than 1,200 miles away from Pittsboro, Sandy and Scott Phillips sat around their kitchen table in Texas on a weekday in February reflecting on the test results for their water samples.

Last year, looking to downsize, they built the custom home of their dreams in a new development in Round Rock, 20 miles north of Austin.

But soon after moving in, they began to notice the water had an unusual odor, prompting them to invest thousands in a water softening and reverse osmosis water filtration system.

Not long after, the couple got their water tested as part of CR’s project, taking samples from water before it was filtered. The results were concerning: high not just in PFAS (32.8 ppt) but also in arsenic, at 3.3 parts per billion. “We get this gorgeous house,” Sandy Phillips says, “and then the water is terrible.”

Bill Brown, general manager of the Jonah Water Special Utility District, the couple’s water supplier, says it “has complied with all federal and state minimum contaminant level standards for arsenic and lead for many years”. He says that while CR’s results conflicted with its records, the water district will investigate. He did not comment on the PFAS found in the Phillipses’ water.

In the early 2000s, the EPA considered a drinking water limit for arsenic of 3 ppb, before settling on 10 ppb as an amount that balances the costs for water system operators while reducing health risks. CR scientists have long said the EPA should set a limit of 3 ppb or lower, in line with what other health experts and environmental advocacy groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), have called for.

Almost every sample CR tested had measurable levels of arsenic, including 10 – or about 8% – with levels between 3 and 10 ppb. Previous tests from CR and others have shown elevated levels in juices and baby foods.

Research suggests that exposure to even low levels of arsenic can pose health risks over the long term. A 2014 study in the journal Environmental Health found an association between water with arsenic of 5 ppb or greater and a five- to six-point IQ reduction in children.

Two states – New Hampshire and New Jersey – have lowered their arsenic limit to 5 ppb, citing warnings from studies. The EPA itself even sets its “maximum contaminant level goal” – the level below which there is no known or expected risk to health – at zero for arsenic.

Lead: no safe amount

The Phillipses, in Texas, were especially fortunate to have installed a filtration system because the results of their unfiltered tap test showed high levels of not only arsenic but also lead, at 5.8 ppb.

(CR’s follow-up tests of the couple’s filtered water showed trace amounts of lead and levels of arsenic and PFAS well within CR’s recommended limits.)

The risks of lead, and problems with how water utilities test for it, became a national concern when news of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, exploded in 2015.

Scientists and the EPA agree that there’s no safe exposure level of lead.

But taking into consideration the feasibility of achieving lower levels, the EPA says utilities have to take significant steps to lower lead levels – including replacing lead service lines—only when 10% of samples from homes in their service areas exceed 15 ppb.

Consumer advocates say those EPA regulations are problematic—a reality underscored by the testing results of water being piped into a condo owned by Stephen and Robin Newberg in New Britain, Connecticut.

Lead typically works its way into drinking water through lead pipes that feed people’s homes or in the home’s plumbing itself.

While New Britain’s annual water quality report for customers indicates that its average lead level is 6 ppb, the Newbergs’ results showed a concentration of 31.2 ppb, more than double the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb.

Stephen Newberg, a former postal worker, says he drinks filtered water and his wife drinks bottled water, so he’s not personally worried.

But the 66-year-old sits on the board of his condo, and he’s concerned about the possibility of the heavy metal being in his neighbors’ water.

Ramon Esponda, New Britain’s deputy director of public works, says that the city complies with the EPA’s lead regulations, based on its 2020 tests, which found an average lead level of 2 ppb.

Esponda says that results of a single sample may be thrown off by new fixtures, recent plumbing work, or other factors.

After this article was published, Esponda told CR the city retested the Newbergs’ water and found lead levels of 3 ppb.

CR’s experts say lead levels are indeed known to vary, but the fact that the Newbergs’ earlier tests showed high levels remains concerning.

The installation of new lead service lines—pipes that connect a water main in a street to individual buildings—was banned in 1986.

But an estimated 3 million to 6 million homes and businesses nationwide still get water through older lines that contain lead, according to EPA estimates.

An untold number of homes have plumbing fixtures made of the heavy metal.

Exposure can especially pose risks in children, such as reduced IQ and behavioral problems.

The Newbergs’ results were the only ones in CR’s tests to be above the EPA action level.

But almost every sample had measurable levels of lead, and health experts emphasize that no amount of lead is safe.

Erik Olson, senior strategic director of health and food at the NRDC, says the Newbergs’ results illustrate several problems with how the EPA regulates lead.

One is that water systems may test for lead only once every three years, and smaller systems can get waivers to test every nine years.

Another is that the sample sizes are generally small.

“There’s very little oversight, and they may not be testing the highest-risk homes,” Olson says.

The EPA, in the waning days of individual-1, finalized changes to the lead regulation that would require testing in elementary schools and established new rules regarding the steps water systems must take when lead is detected.

But the NRDC, the NAACP, and other groups recently sued the EPA, saying those steps didn’t go far enough, and urged the Biden administration to improve on them.