Flint — A Genesee County environmental health director excoriated state health officials in court testimony Tuesday for declaring in 2015 the Legionella outbreak in the Flint region was over when more people were getting sick with the deadly disease.
James Henry, the Genesee County environmental health director, testified in the preliminary exam hearing on state medical director Eden Wells that he was “aggressive” in trying to get the state to not only further investigate an uptick in Legionella cases but to bring in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which he said state officials were slow in doing.
Henry spoke extensively about officials with the state Department of Environmental Quality and others with the Health and Human Services department not taking his and other warnings seriously about Legionella and its effect on residents and how it needed to be further investigated. He even sent Freedom of Information Act requests to get information from Flint and state officials after being ignored and rebuffed, he said.
When asked by special prosecutor Todd Flood whether he could have told the world that there was an outbreak, Henry responded, “I wish we had. I wish we had.”
“I think our biggest failure was trusting the state of Michigan,” he continued.
This was the third day in the Wells hearing before 67th District Court Judge William Crawford II. The judge will decide if Wells, who began her post in May 2015, will be bound over for trial on involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office charges brought by Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Henry said concerns began to rise, first when residents began to complain of rashes and other ailments due to the drinking water switched by emergency managers running the city in the spring of 2014. And his fears continued into 2015 when the state declared the outbreak was over.
But it wasn’t, Henry testified, saying he didn’t have the manpower or expertise to investigate Legionnaires' disease but the state did. “We were looking for assistance,” he said. “Initially, it seemed that there was a lot of scrutiny. It didn’t come in the form of assistance.”
Henry said in October of 2015, Henry’s department sent samples of lead to the state for testing from Flint elementary schools to get results immediately. But the state health officials didn’t get results, he said.
The second person to testify Tuesday was Jay Fiedler, a epidemiologist supervisor with the state Department of Health of Human Services, who was on the witness stand and called by the prosecution before court let out for the day. Fiedler answered questions about Wells and how many times they communicated about Legionella.
His testimony will continue Wednesday.