A task force appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to investigate the water-contamination crisis in Flint issued a blistering report Wednesday, laying blame squarely on state officials in what it called “a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction and environmental injustice.”
The 116-page report details a widespread lack of responsibility and leadership that contributed to the catastrophe, which potentially exposed more than 95,000 residents in the beleaguered city — including about 9,000 children under age 6 — to water tainted with lead.
The Flint Water Advisory Task Force said the state Department of Environmental Quality “failed in its fundamental responsibility” to enforce drinking-water regulations and assured the governor’s office that Flint’s water was safe when it wasn’t. The independent group faulted Snyder and his administration for failing to act even after “suggestions to do so by senior staff members in the Governor’s office.”
The group said the state Department of Health and Human Services failed to quickly recognize the crisis and protect public health. It said the Flint Water Department “rushed unprepared” into switching to a new water source in spring 2014 — the Flint River — without proper use of corrosion controls.
Finally, the task force blamed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s delayed enforcement of federal drinking-water standards for “prolonging the calamity.”
Its report makes clear that Michigan’s emergency-manager law, which gives a state-appointed manager authority over locally elected officials, also played a central role in the debacle. In the case of Flint, the emergency manager named by the Republican governor pushed to switch the city’s water source in a budget-cutting move.
“While one must acknowledge that emergency management is a mechanism to address severe financial distress,” the task force wrote, “it is important to emphasize that the role of the emergency manager in Flint places accountability for what happened with state government.”
The consequences of the government’s inaction and regulatory failures will be “long-lasting,” the group added, and “they have deeply affected Flint’s public health, its economic future, and residents’ trust in government.”
Wednesday’s report comes a week after Snyder and other officials, including EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, were blasted by angry lawmakers during hearings on Capitol Hill. McCarthy said Michigan officials dragged their feet in responding to the disaster in Flint; Snyder said he relied on “career bureaucrats” who assured him the water was safe.
The task force said engaged Flint residents, individuals inside and outside government who spoke up about the problems, and the work of investigative reporters helped bring attention to the contamination.
“Without their courage and persistence,” the group wrote, “this crisis likely never would have been brought to light and mitigation efforts never begun.”