Kildee calls for federal probe of Flint water crisis

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Rep. Dan Kildee has requested an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into the Flint water crisis, saying the unacceptable lead levels detected in the city’s water “were a failure of government at every level.”

Kildee, a Democrat from Flint Township, wrote Wednesday to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy about the need for accountability “to restore confidence and to ensure that these failures never happen again,” following revelations that lead levels existed in city water at dangerous levels for months.

“Unfortunately, the citizens of Flint are the victims in this situation. They deserve a thorough investigation and answers to these questions,” Kildee wrote to McCarthy.

Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich has also requested a formal EPA review of the state environmental department’s oversight of water treatment in Flint.

“We need an accurate and thorough investigation to determine whether the misapplication of federal water testing rules was intentional or due to negligence,” said Ananich, D-Flint.

The request came as Gov. Rick Snyder formed what he called a five-member “independent advisory task force” headed by former Michigan Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, a Republican and current senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Chris Kolb, a Democratic former state representative and president of the Michigan Environmental Council.

The group will review how water use and testing was handled in Flint and offer recommendations for future guidelines to protect the health and safety of all of the state’s residents, according to Snyder’s office.

“Bringing in outside experts to evaluate our actions and help monitor and advise on potential changes to law, procedures and practices will be key to continuing work on the comprehensive action plan and ensuring safe drinking water for all the residents in Flint and all of Michigan,” Snyder said in a statement.

Other task force members are Dr. Matthew Davis of the University of Michigan Health System, Dr. Lawrence Reynolds of Mott Children’s Health Center in Flint and Eric Rothstein of the Galardi Rothstein Group.

The request by Kildee and Ananich comes after Michigan’s top environmental official acknowledged late Sunday the state made mistakes in its handling of Flint’s long-running water crisis. He made changes, including reassigning a top official responsible for the safety of drinking water.

Dan Wyant, director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, has said staff members applied the wrong standards of the Lead and Copper Rule that governs testing and monitoring for drinking water. The result was that proper controls regarding corrosion were not put in place when the city began drawing its water from the Flint River in spring 2014.

Kildee is requesting that, at minimum, the EPA conduct a review of its oversight of state programs, looking at issues such as whether the federal agency evaluated testing guidelines that the state was using in Flint.

Wyant admitted Sunday the state applied the wrong standards of the Lead and Copper Rule, using the standard for cities with populations of 50,000 or less instead of the one for a population like Flint’s, which is closer to 100,000.

Kildee asks whether EPA was aware that the state was applying wrong standards of the Lead and Copper Rule. He also wants to know when the EPA first became aware of potential elevated levels of lead in Flint’s water, and at what point the agency is required to notify officials after learning of such an issue.

The congressman requested that McCarthy respond by Oct. 27.

The state released documents in the past week to the media — originally requested by Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards — showing state officials seemingly failed to heed repeated warnings from the EPA as far back as February about potential problems with Flint’s water system.

The EPA is sending federal technical advisers to assist with the Flint crisis, following requests by Kildee’s office last week.

Gov. Rick Snyder said this week he's asked for a report on how the state’s environmental department didn't detect lead-leaching corrosion in the city's aging pipelines.

Problems began with Flint's water in the spring of 2014, when the city switched to Flint River water. Residents complained the tap water had strange coloring, smell and taste.

In the last month, those concerns were dramatically heightened by studies that show lead levels in some children have risen since the switch from Detroit's water system. Those studies showed that, in some areas, lead levels in children's blood samples have doubled and, in two ZIP codes, tripled.

(202) 662-8736