Flint crisis researchers named to state response team

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Marc Edwards, right, examines a rusted pipe with Ph.D. research assistant Siddhartha Roy.

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday appointed two researchers who helped expose the Flint drinking water contamination crisis to a committee tasked with identifying long-term solutions.

Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center are among a group of medical and field experts who will serve on the 17-member Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, the governor announced.

“Flint residents deserve clean, safe drinking water, and I am confident that the expertise represented on this committee will be a tremendous asset as we continue to address the water crisis in Flint,” Snyder said in a statement. “I am grateful to these appointees for their willingness to serve on this important committee.”

Edwards, who led an independent and volunteer Flint research team from Virginia Tech, first exposed elevated blood lead levels in drinking water following the city’s switch to local river water. Hanna-Attisha later identified elevated blood lead levels in the blood of infants and children.

The state had initially dismissed their conclusions, but officials confirmed the independent findings on Oct. 1, prompting an ongoing response. The governor, in his recent State of the State address, thanked Edwards and Hanna-Attisha for sounding the alarm as far back as May.

“Tragically, based on what DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services had seen on the ground, they initially failed to reach the same conclusion,” Snyder said in his Jan. 19 speech. “I want to thank the professor, the doctor and the concerned pastors of Flint for bringing this issue to light. We are actively investigating why these agencies got it so wrong.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver also will serve on the new inter-agency coordinating committee, which Snyder created by executive order on Jan. 11, along with heads of various state agencies, including Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh, Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and Treasurer Nick Khouri.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

The governor also appointed Genesee County Board Chairman Jamie Curtis, City Administrator Natasha Henderson, retired Saginaw County Drain Commissioner Jim Koski, Mott Children’s Health Center CEO Lawrence Reynolds, Kettering University professor of mechanical engineering Laura Sullivan and Genesee County Health Department officer Mark Valacak.

One other member will be named at a later date. The committee has been charged with a variety of responsibilities, including recommendations for acceptable drinking water standards and recommendations regarding the health impact on Flint residents.

A separate Flint Water Advisory Task Force, in a letter sent to the governor last week, had suggested he establish a group of subject matter experts, including Edwards, to oversee the city’s conversion to a new regional pipeline from Lake Huron. The full task force report is expected in February.