Lansing — Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich urged Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday to help Flint switch back to Detroit’s water system after medical researchers found elevated levels of lead in children who consumed water from the Flint River over the past year.
Ananich, a Democrat who represents Flint, said the city of 99,000 residents faces a “public health crisis” after pediatricians at Hurley Medical Center discovered higher levels of lead in the blood of Flint children tested since the city stopped buying drinking water from Detroit 18 months ago.
“I’m going to keep pushing for swift transfer back to Detroit,” Ananich told The Detroit News. “I think that seems like the most logical decision to make at this point in time.”
Flint residents have been complaining about the odor, taste and smell of the city’s water since Flint stopped buying bulk water from Detroit’s water department in April 2014 and started pumping drinking water from the Flint River. The river is serving as a temporary water source until a new regional pipeline from Lake Huron goes online in late 2016.
Ananich participated in a conference call with Snyder and members of his administration on Monday morning.
“I’ve been stressing an urgency, that this is a public health crisis and we need to get in front of it,” Ananich said.
Ananich also sought emergency funding to supply Flint residents with bottled water and to purchase thousands of water filters for household faucets to help filter out lead from the city’s aging lead-lined pipes that service some 15,000 customers.
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor’s office is “reviewing” Ananich’s ideas.
“We believe protecting public health is paramount and safe, clean, accessible drinking water is essential,” Wurfel said. “That’s what we are focused on helping ensure and deeply share the senator’s commitment to helping address the issue.”
Flint officials have said they stopped buying Detroit’s water after the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department sought to hike the city’s monthly water bill by $1.5 million until Flint switched over to the new Karegnondi Pipeline Authority next year.
Last week, Genesee County pediatricians released a study of blood levels of Flint children younger than 5 between January 2013 and September 2013 when Flint used Detroit’s water and January and September of this year when residents drank Flint River water.
The study found blood levels of lead in Flint children nearly doubled and in two Flint ZIP codes, the lead levels tripled. Federal officials have previously cited Flint for having high levels of a disinfectant by-product.
In a letter to Snyder Monday, Ananich said the city needs the state’s assistance in negotiating a short-term water purchasing contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department until a new pipeline project can be complete.
Earlier this year, Flint leaders rebuffed an offer by Detroit officials to reconnect Flint for $12 million more annually, The Detroit News reported in February.
“Your administration has the ability to ensure a financially acceptable and responsible contract between Flint and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, particularly in light of the public health implications with the Flint River supply,” Ananich wrote to Snyder.
The governor’s office did not comment on Ananich’s desire to have Flint switch back to Detroit’s water supply.
But Wurfel noted the state has provided $4.2 million in grants and loans to help Flint add a carbon filtration system and test its water.
“We understand that residents are frustrated,” Wurfel said in an email.