Coalition asks EPA to intervene in Flint water issue

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

The federal government needs to step in to ensure residents in Flint have safe drinking water following health complaints and findings of elevated lead levels in children’s blood, a group of environmental and civil rights groups said Thursday.

The coalition of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the National Resources Defense Council and the Flint-based group Water You Fighting For said they are petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to intervene in the city’s year-and-a-half-long water crisis.

State officials will be in Flint Friday to address concerns over the city’s water situation.

That situation escalated in the past week after researchers from Virginia Tech and Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint said lead levels in local children have risen. Studies showed that in some areas lead levels doubled and, in two local ZIP codes, tripled. Those finding came on the heels of 19 months of complaints about the odor, appearance and taste of the tap water that is drawn from the Flint River.

“Neither the City of Flint nor the State of Michigan is doing enough to fix the problem of lead in our drinking water," said LeeAnne Walters, a member of the Flint-based group Water You Fighting For. “As evidenced by the ongoing poisoning of the children of Flint, it’s time for the EPA to take immediate action to provide us with a safe water source. The city and state need to test for lead and copper as intended by the federal lead and copper rule.”

Walters’ organization was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Natural Resources Defense Council in asking the federal government to step in. The groups want the EPA to compel the city to return to getting its water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Flint is in the midst of a transition to a new water source to get out from under the rates charged by the Detroit water system. It’s a move that was instigated while the city was under the leadership of an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The city is committed to getting its water from Lake Huron through the Karegondi Water Authority when the system comes online, possibly as soon as next year. In the interim, the Flint River has been providing drinking water to city residents since last spring.

But now there is evidence that the water is taking on lead from the plumbing connections that tie much of the city’s old housing stock to city waterlines.

State officials said Thursday they will outline their response to the lead problems in Flint on Friday.

“This issue is one that we’ve been actively engaged on and our administration will be outlining a collaborative, comprehensive action plan tomorrow afternoon,” said Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel. “We believe protecting public health is paramount and safe, clean, accessible drinking water is essential. That’s what we are focused on helping ensure and working together across local, state and federal levels to bring all resources and ideas to bear.

“(I) would add that the governor and state agencies have been closely working with Flint leaders on their infrastructure challenges for a while, including providing $4.2 million in grants and restructured loan financing to provide resources needed to locate and fix infrastructure problems and add the carbon filtration system, additional testing and helping identify and provide filters.”

On Thursday, the groups asking for federal intervention charged city and state officials with moving too slowly to address the problems.

“Flint city officials, state-appointed emergency managers and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have all failed monumentally in their duty to provide the people of Flint with clean, safe drinking water," said Kary Moss, director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Now that the truth is revealed, further action is imperative.

“The devastating revelations from independent researchers, as well as our own nearly year-long investigation, demand an immediate, effective and comprehensive response. The EPA, along with and city officials, must exercise their full authority to guarantee that the people of Flint are protected from the hazardous water now flowing into their homes. The first step should be to overturn the emergency manager order and remove the Flint River as the city’s source of water.”

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