Update: Some are suggesting that there is less to this than meets the eye:
Follow the link to see the e-mail string. The issue in the alert, which came from the city of Flint originally, wasn’t lead (as the article below notes and I pointed out), but elevated levels of trihalomethane (TTHM) in the water. These form as a byproduct of chlorination in drinking water, and a certain level is acceptable in water. The TTHM level in Flint rose to the level of an alert, though, and prompted the state to supply bottled water to its employees. Should that not have also alerted them to look a little closer at Flint’s water quality, especially given its recent change in sourcing? If it appeared that “certain state departments are concerned with Flint’s WQ,” as the district engineer reported after being contacted by Michigan’s state DEQ, shouldn’t that have prompted follow-up by both the district and the state DEQ officials in the loop? Maybe it wouldn’t have taken another eight or nine months to do something about the lead.
In the end, we still have state employees (and local officials) discussing something wrong with Flint’s WQ, the state supplying their employees with bottled water in order to avoid it, but no one effectively following up to see what exactly the problem was and the risks present for everyone else for another several months.
Original post follows:
This puts the Flint water crisis, and the government response to it, in a new and more unpleasant light. E-mails within state government show that officials knew something was wrong with Flint’s water at least a year ago, although possibly not the lead contamination that has enraged the city’s residents. Apparently, the state government had one standard of water for its own employees, and another for the hoi polloi:
Michigan offered fresh bottled water for state employees in Flint starting in January 2015, although residents were told that tap water was safe to drink until last fall, a state official said.
Flint residents are now warned to drink only filtered or bottled water because of lead contamination in the city’s supply.
Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for the agency that manages state buildings, said water coolers were introduced at the State Office Building after Flint flunked some drinking water standards that weren’t related to lead.
“We have provided it continuously. That was a decision we made as the building owner” in Flint, said Buhs.
My, my, my. It took several more months before the state intervened to stop consumption of Flint’s tap water. There is no evidence that the state took steps to warn residents at the same time it spent money to provide its employees with a “choice” of water supplies. After Progress Michigan published the e-mails, Governor Rick Snyder insisted, “I had no knowledge of that taking place” — but certainly someone did. And those someones who arranged for alternate drinking water knew the existing water supply was unhealthy at least as early as January 2015.
The lesson seems pretty stark — the governing class takes care of its own, and not necessarily the people who put them in those jobs.
The Washington Post’s Janell Ross wonders why Republican presidential candidates are taking so long to come up to speed on this crisis:
There are more than 8,000 children in that city of roughly 99,000 people whose brains, impulse control and learning ability may have been permanently damaged by lead in Flint’s drinking water. Their lives, their futures and those of their families and probably the entire town have been forever changed. This is the sort of situation that should have anyone promising to “solve problems” — as Kasich said during his closing debate remarks — transfixed.
In truth, Kasich was really just the guy on the debate stage who happened to draw the Flint question. Off-stage, in the days leading up to the debate, others demonstrated a utter absence of knowledge of events in Flint, too. Some candidates just seemed far more interested in the politics and political gamesmanship around the situation than the health crisis at hand.
Perhaps there is a reluctance to pile on Snyder until everything comes out. It’s also worth noting that, besides the emergency response under way now, there would be little any president could do to resolve it. But that doesn’t excuse the candidates from recognizing it as a big issue at the moment, one that speaks to the failure of government to deliver on basic services.
As such, this seems like a pretty good opportunity to remind people why accountability matters, and of the value of subsidiarity as well. Michigan isn’t a small-government state, and the EPA under Barack Obama can hardly be described as laissez-faire.It stacks right up with the Veterans Administration as examples of this dynamic, a scandal on which Republican candidates have been campaigning hard, and for good reason. This, along with the EPA’s disastrous handling of the Animas River spill, demonstrates the incompetence and flat-out arrogance of interventionist government run by big bureaucracies more interested in self-preservation than serving a free citizenry.