Gov. Snyder prevented release of lead test results at schools, e-mails suggest

Gov. Rick Snyder, via Michigan Municipal League.
Gov. Rick Snyder, via Michigan Municipal League.

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

Gov. Rick Snyder ordered the state Department of Environmental Quality to withhold findings of dangerous levels of lead in drinking water at Flint schools for up to six day so he could prepare the state’s response during a press conference on Oct. 8, according to newly released e-mails.

The records, first obtained by MLive, are the latest example of how Snyder failed to alert the public in a timely fashion about alarming levels of lead that health experts said cause significant physical and mental problems in children because their brains and nerves are still developing.

“MDEQ explained that the Governor prohibited releasing all Genesee County lead results until after the press conference,” wrote Jim Henry, Genesee County’s environmental health supervisor.

The e-mails also show that state officials declined to release results of additional lead tests to the health department, even after the county requested the records under the Freedom of Information Act.

On Oct. 2, the state said it began testing Flint schools for lead. But it wasn’t until Oct. 8 that the DEQ announced dangerous levels of lead in drinking water at several elementary schools and academies for young children.

“They should have alerted the schools and they didn’t,” Henry told MLive.

It took the DEQ an additional 10 days to meet with county health officials to tackle the issue.

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When the county health department wanted results of new lead tests at Freeman Elementary, the state declined to release the findings, saying Lansing officials would first have to meet with local officials at a later date to discuss the findings and determine how to “release the information to the public.”

“MDEQ reminds me of a stubborn 2yr old child,” Henry wrote. “Instead of doing what is right, they’ll willfully take another spanking just to be defiant.”

After we published this story, Snyder issued the following statement:

Gov. Rick Snyder never ordered a state agency to withhold information about lead testing in Flint schools, but instead quickly announced the results of water tests in 13 school buildings at a press conference in the city on Oct. 8.

The Governor’s Office unequivocally denies allegations published online by MLive on Wednesday that Snyder ordered the Department of Environmental Quality to withhold results of testing in the schools.

No child was ever at risk during the testing period, as the district had issued advisories telling students and staff not to drink water in the schools on Sept. 25.

On Friday, Oct. 2, the day after learning about elevated lead levels in in the city, Snyder responded aggressively with an action plan that included testing the water in the schools and distributing filters.

The state verified the data given the inaccuracies of sampling that had been problematic As soon as the water samples were tested and the results verified, Snyder announced the results at a press conference in Flint on Oct. 8, where he also announced the state would help reconnect the city to water from Detroit.

Steve Neavling

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.