By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
Gov. Rick Snyder declined an invitation to testify at a second Congressional hearing on the Flint water crisis, and members of the committee were outraged.
“Where is Gov. Snyder?” asked Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pennsylvania, during the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee this afternoon. “He has a lot of questions to answer. I am amazed that he continues to hide.”
The fiery hearing included testimony from health experts, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, Rep. Dan Kildee, Flint School District Superintendent Bilal Kareem Tawwab and others.
“I’m mad as hell,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Ca., said during the hearing. “We need to shut the governor’s office down!”
Waters added: “To hear this was a man-made problem is heartbreaking.”
Health and Flint officials told the committee that the state government failed thousands of Flint residents who were poisoned by elevated levels of lead and other toxins in the water. The effects, they said, will last for generations and will be catastrophic.
“This is a multigenerational problem,” testified Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint. “We have a population traumatized” because of “two years of governmental betrayal. You expect the water to be safe because you were told it was safe.”
The elevated levels of lead and other toxins “increased miscarriages and fetal deaths,” said Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, president of Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives, adding that “the harm was documented and disclosed” without action from the state.
Much of the hearing focused on why state officials, including Snyder, ignored numerous warnings about the health dangers of switching Flint’s water source to the Flint River, a decision that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to address. The state used the Flint River to save an estimated $3 million a year.
“We clearly have seen a failure in government,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said. “I want to find out why this happened. Never agin in America should this happen.”
Rep. Kildee, who represents Flint, said the responsibility belongs to Snyder and his appointed officials who took over Flint under an emergency manager because the city lost all authority.
“All of the decisions that were made in the crisis were made by the state of Michigan,” Kildee said.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said the state ignored residents when they complained of getting sick from the contaminated water.
“For over a year, we screamed and yelled and hollered,” she testified.
Weaver added: “Our community has been traumatized. We are not a disposable people. Clean water is a basic right. … We have been poisoned by a manmade disaster.”
Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said state officials need to be held accountable.
“We are witnessing a great American tragedy unfold before our very eyes,” Green said. “The bastard in this circumstance is the government. The government has caused the people to be poisoned.”
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to demand that the Environmental Protection Agency alert the public about lead in their drinking water.
Snyder is facing a recall effort, and he and other state officials could be charged with crimes, including manslaughter, if a state investigation determines “gross negligence” led to the deaths of Flint residents who were forced to rely on contaminated water.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.