FLINT, Michigan — The water crisis in Flint — the Michigan city grappling with toxic lead contamination in its drinking water following a cost-saving measure — is now getting high-level attention from the state’s top legal official.
Attorney General Bill Schuette said Friday he will investigate the water crisis to determine whether any Michigan laws have been violated.
“The situation in Flint is a human tragedy in which families are struggling with even the most basic parts of daily life,” Schuette said in a statement. “While everyone acknowledges that mistakes were made, my duty as attorney general requires that I conduct this investigation.”
Schuette’s announcement comes amid a situation that has seen the governor order the National Guard to help deliver clean water to the city’s nearly 100,000 residents 70 miles northwest of Detroit, as experts raise concern about rising levels of poisonous lead in children’s blood and other health concerns.
Gov. Rick Snyder, who already has declared a state of emergency, on Thursday asked President Barack Obama to do so at a federal level — a move the governor says could provide aid such as grants for temporary housing and home repairs as the city deals with damage done to its water system.
The President did so on Saturday, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to lead Washington’s disaster relief.
Singer Cher is trying to help. She and Icelandic Glacial are combining to donate 181,440 bottles of water to Flint residents. The water is scheduled to arrive Wednesday and will be given to a food bank, the bottler said.
The water switch
The damage stems from a decision two years ago by the state — which had taken over the city’s budget amid a financial emergency — to save money by switching Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. It was billed as a temporary cost-saving measure until a new supply line to Lake Huron was ready.
But after the switch, residents complained the water looked, smelled and tasted funny. It turned out the river water was highly corrosive — 19 times more corrosive than the water in Lake Huron, Virginia Tech researchers discovered.
According to a class-action lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Quality wasn’t treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. Therefore, the water was eroding the iron water mains, turning water brown.
In addition, according to the lawsuit, the corrosive water also sent lead into the water supply, because about half of the service lines to homes in Flint are made of lead.
State officials told worried residents that everything was fine. But in August, researchers from Virginia Tech performed in-home testing and found elevated levels of lead in the drinking water.
And a Flint pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, announced that records showed blood lead levels in local toddlers doubled and even tripled in some cases since the water switch.
In October, the city reverted to using the Lake Huron water supply, but the damage was done to the lead pipes. The state is now handing out filters and bottled water.
Lead poisoning is dangerous for anyone, but Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has pointed to research showing how lead exposure can affect a developing child’s IQ, resulting in learning disabilities.
A state-appointed task force preliminarily found that fault lies with the state DEQ, and on December 29 director Dan Wyant stepped down.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is investigating why an anti-corrosive agent wasn’t used, as the lawsuit contends.
“Nobody has answered that question,” Weaver, who was elected in November, said earlier this month.