Even as authorities are still advising residents in Flint, Mich., not to drink or bathe in city’s tap water, leaving thousands to rely on bottled water to survive, some of the state’s prominent political voices think Flint’s water crisis may be exaggerated.
Foremost among them is Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson (R), who voiced skepticism about the severity of the crisis during an appearance before the Detroit Economic Club luncheon Tuesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“I don’t think we should say or use words anymore like Flint’s been poisoned,” Patterson told reporters, according to Fox affiliate WJBK. “Because I don’t think that’s accurate.”
“I’ve been using words like, ‘Flint’s been poisoned’ and I won’t use that anymore because I think the jury is out,” he added.
Flint is in Genesee County, just north of Oakland County.
According to the World Health Organization, “lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.”
As The Post’s Yanan Wang notes: “The Hurley Medical Center in Flint released a study in September that confirmed what many parents in the city had feared for more than a year: The proportion of infants and children with above-average levels of lead in their blood has nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source in 2014.”
Despite what many see as definitive evidence of a crisis, Patterson told the station he changed his mind after hearing a radio interview with Bill Ballenger, a well-known Republican political analyst, former state lawmaker and Flint resident, who said he was offering “the other side” of the story.
“Let’s wait and see what the facts show,” Patterson urged.
In the interview cited by Patterson, Ballenger said his own blood tests hadn’t revealed elevated levels of lead and he wondered whether the crisis was a hoax, according to the Free Press. He argued that the crisis was instead perpetuated by politicians and members of the media “with an ax to grind.”
“The idea that the entire population of Flint has been poisoned and that we all have elevated blood-levels because of this is just a total canard,” Ballenger told WJR’s Frank Beckmann. “It’s just a crock, and for this to be perpetuated as a story is doing a lot of damage to Flint as a community.”
Ballenger didn’t deny that some people — namely dozens of children — have been exposed to lead poisoning, but he questioned how severity of the contamination and its origin in a subsequent radio interview that aired Tuesday, according to CBS affiliate WWJ.
“It’s like two to three percent of the population, it is very unclear in many instances whether it came from the Flint River or if it came from other sources … and a lot more study needs to be done,” Ballenger said. “I live [in Flint] half the week. I’ve been drinking the water consistently without a filter all during this past two years when all this controversy has risen and I have no effect from drinking the water — myself, my neighborhood doesn’t, nobody in the neighborhood does.”
Ballenger also told the Free Press that a three to five-year study would be necessary before anyone jumped to conclusions.
Within hours of voicing his skepticism, Ballenger was removed from his role as a contributing writer for Inside Michigan Politics, “a newsletter that covers politics across the state,” according to WWJ.
Susan Demas, the editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, called Ballenger’s comments “indefensible,” according to WWJ.
“[Bill] is entitled to his opinion, but not his own facts,” Demas said in a statement reported by WWJ. “Flint is a public health catastrophe, as the meticulous research of Virginia Tech and Hurley Medical Center Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha clearly shows. I cannot have anyone associated with Inside Michigan Politics who minimizes the impact of this terrible public health disaster that will impact people’s lives for decades to come. I am truly sorry to everyone hurt by Bill’s comments at a time of already considerable anxiety and pain.”
Ballenger’s controversial comments contrasted sharply with the tone of Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address, in which the powerful politician humbly apologized to Flint families and repeatedly referred to their plight as “crisis,” according to CNN.
“To begin, I’d like to address the people of Flint,” said Snyder, a Republican. “Your families face a crisis, a crisis you did not create and could not have prevented. I am sorry and I will fix it.”
“No citizen of this great state should endure this kind of catastrophe,” he added. “Government failed you — federal, state and local leaders — by breaking the trust you placed in us.”
The Free Press reported that after Tuesday’s luncheon, Patterson’s office released a statement disagreeing with the notion that the county executive had attempted to diminish the severity of the Flint water crisis.
“Patterson never said he agreed with Ballenger’s comments,” his office said in a statement. “He simply noted there are other viewpoints on the subject.”