2. The state downplayed key studies that found serious health hazards.
As Flint residents complained about health problems and discolored, foul-tasting water after receiving water from the Flint River in April 2014, the state maintained the issues were “aesthetic” and posed no risks.
“It’s not like an eminent threat to public health,” David Murray, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Snyder, wrote in an e-mail in February 2015, prepping state officials for a meeting in Flint.
The state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which is responsible for enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act, discounted two studies that showed elevated levels of lead, saying on Sept. 25 that it found “no increase outside the normal seasonal increases.” The agency insisted its own water tests were more complete and reliable.
“If the elevated blood lead levels were being driven by a change in water, we would have seen the elevated levels remain high after the change in water source,” wrote Geralyn Lasher, spokeswoman for the state Health & Human Services Department, in late September. Lasher suggested the elevated levels of lead were from lead paint.
Two days after a second independent study showed elevated levels of lead in the drinking water, the governor’s chief of staff on Sept. 26 suggested the switch to the Flint River was the right choice.
“It was still the right position for the long term benefit of the city and its future,” Muchmore wrote to the governor.
On Oct. 18, after the Detroit News raised serious questions about the state’s handling of the crisis, the DEQ finally acknowledged it had bungled the crisis and failed to address “corrosion control … from the beginning,” as required by federal law.
“I believe now we made a mistake,” then-DEQ Director Dan Wyant, who resigned in December, wrote to Snyder on Oct. 18. “Because of what I have learned, I will be announcing a change in leadership in our drinking water program.”
On the same date, DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel wrote, “We will learn from this. We will make necessary changes to see to it that our program becomes a national leader in protection.”