Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder apologized to the residents of Flint for a water crisis that has prompted outrage, federal scrutiny and lawsuits, vowing to seek long-term assistance for the city’s residents.
In his State of the State address on Tuesday night, Snyder said he was asking state lawmakers for $28 million to help residents reeling after Flint’s drinking water became contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead. He also vowed to release his emails related to Flint from 2014 and 2015.
“To you, the people of Flint, I want to say tonight, as I have before, I am sorry, and I will fix it,” Snyder, a Republican elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014, said during his speech, one of multiple times he addressed Flint residents and expressed contrition.
In April 2014, Flint stopped getting its water from Detroit and began using water from the Flint River. Residents quickly began complaining of water that smelled or was discolored. Flint began getting water from Detroit again in October, but by that time some residents had been drinking the water for 19 months.
Researchers found elevated levels of lead in Flint’s water supply and reported that blood tests found that lead contamination had nearly doubled and tripled in children younger than 5 who were exposed to the highest lead levels.
In his speech Tuesday, Snyder said that he was asking the state for $28 million to pay for bottled water, filters, testing and the treatment of children with high lead levels.
Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in a person’s body, and even low levels of lead in a child’s blood have been found to affect IQ, attention spans and performance in school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also says that the effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.
“No citizen of this great state should endure this kind of catastrophe,” Snyder said Tuesday.
Earlier this month, in response to rising anger and criticism that the state had not done enough to help Flint residents, Snyder declared a state of emergency. He also dispatched the National Guard to help hand out water bottles and testing kits in the city of nearly 100,000 people located about an hour northwest of Detroit. According to the U.S. Census, more than 40 percent of its residents live below the poverty line, more than double the percentage statewide.
Although protesters have called for his resignation, Snyder said Tuesday that he will be working on this situation “for as long as it takes to make this right.” He said that government leaders on the local, state and federal levels had failed the people of Flint.
“I’m sorry most of all that I let you down,” he said. “You deserve better.”
Over the weekend, in response to a request from Snyder, President Obama signed an emergency declaration that allowed federal aid to flow to Flint. Obama, who is visiting Detroit on Wednesday, met Tuesday with Flint’s newly elected mayor, Karen Weaver, and appointed a coordinator for federal aid to the city.
The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the situation, while class-action lawsuits have been filed by residents and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed notice that they would sue state and city officials as well.
This article has been updated.