Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder named a panel of experts Wednesday to help solve the city of Flint's water crisis, including some of the very critics who forced local, state and federal governments to acknowledge dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water there.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver also announced at a news conference with Snyder in Flint that she had hired Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who exposed the degree of Flint's contamination, to oversee all water testing done by the state and federal governments. He will report to her as an independent consultant and be paid through private donations.
Edwards will serve on Snyder's 17-person panel, along with Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who confirmed a sharp increase in the number of children showing elevated levels of lead in their bloodstreams after the city switched its water supply to the Flint River in April 2014.
The Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, which also includes the mayor, will make recommendations about the health and welfare of people exposed to lead and suggest ways to upgrade the city's aging water system.
The steps announced Wednesday appear intended in part to help Snyder, the state and other officials regain the trust of the city's 100,000 residents, who are still unable to drink from their taps. The governor again took responsibility for the failure to protect Flint households from lead, which leached into the water supply from aging pipes when the city switched to the more corrosive river water and the state neglected to add protective chemicals.
"I am responsible for that, and I take responsibility, " Snyder said, echoing the words of his State of the State address last week.
Separately Wednesday, a coalition of environmental groups asked a federal judge to order quick replacement of all the lead pipes in the city's water system. Snyder said at the news conference that officials are trying to figure out where those pipes are so that action can be taken.
His administration has estimated that replacing as many as 15,000 damaged lead service lines could cost as much as $55 million.
Keith Creagh, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the state was continuing to sample Flint water for lead and that "things are trending better." Of 2,577 samples analyzed, 93.7 percent had less than 15 parts per billion of lead and 85 percent had less than 5 parts per billion.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency recommends that homeowners and municipalities move to reduce any lead level higher than 15 parts per billion, but some health researchers say there actually may be no safe level for lead in drinking water.
The state has asked the federal government to expand Medicaid so that blood tests for lead poisoning will be covered for all Flint children under 21. Nick Lyon, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, promised long-term treatment and monitoring because "we know lead can have impacts for years to come."