Deaths from Legionnaires’ disease in Flint area reach 12 during water crisis

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Photo by Steve Neavling.

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

The death toll from Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area has increased to 12 in 2014 and 2015, according to an ongoing investigation by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service.

The number of people diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease also spiked to 91 between April 2014 and October 2015, when the state forced Flint residents to rely on the highly corrosive Flint River for drinking water. In 2012 and 2013, only 21 Flint-area residents had been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a bacterial infection linked to bad water.

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The state initially reported 10 people had died from Legionnaires’ disease during the water switch.

“To date, 91 cases and 12 deaths have been identified in total for 2014 and 2015 in Genesee County,” said Eden Wells, M.D., Chief Medical Executive with the MDHHS. “We remain vigilant in identifying any potential case associated with the outbreak.”

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While state officials said they cannot confirm the outbreak was caused by the lack of corrosion control in Flint’s drinking water, health experts said the Flint River is likely the cause of the outbreak.

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Gov. Rick Snyder
Gov. Rick Snyder

Records show that the Environmental Protection Agency warned of a deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Flint area in April 2015, more than eight months before Gov. Rick Snyder publicly acknowledged the health crisis. Snyder claims he knew nothing of the outbreak until January 2016, even though e-mails show his administration was well aware. 

The EPA offered technical assistance, but state officials declined it, even after acknowledging the state was not experienced in overseeing the treatment of corrosion control, records show.

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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.