Report: Snyder discussed Flint lead in summer 2015

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder and senior staff discussed Flint water issues, including lead, during an undated midsummer 2015 meeting, according to a Flint water task force report released Wednesday.

The report from the state task force charged with investigating the Flint water crisis highlighted the earliest acknowledgment Snyder was a part of discussions concerning toxic lead in the city’s water supply.

The task force’s vague date of the meeting seems to raise further questions as to when the governor knew about lead contaminating Flint’s water supply. His public account has been that state health and environmental officials didn’t inform him until late September and Oct. 1.

“If you go back to October of last year, when I first learned that lead was an issue in terms of being informed by state departments of this problem, one of the things that I thought was important is we start an independent group to go look at this issue,” Snyder said Wednesday during the task force’s news conference in Flint.

According to the task force’s report: “In mid-summer 2015, the governor and senior staff discussed Flint water issues; lead was apparently part of those discussions.”

“If lead was discussed during that time it would have been in the context of the DEQ continuing to tell the governor’s office the water was safe, which the governor learned later was not true because the DEQ changed its position,” Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said Wednesday.

Snyder referenced a summertime awareness of lead in Flint’s water during testimony last Thursday before a congressional committee. At the time, Snyder said, officials in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality continued to maintain Flint’s water was safe to drink and in compliance with federal safety rules.

On Sept. 28, Snyder was “personally advised that MDEQ and (the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) had been wrong for months about the reality of lead in the water and children’s blood lead levels,” according to the task force report.

Shortly after state officials acknowledged the lead contamination, Snyder helped get Flint switched back to Detroit’s Lake Huron water system in mid-October.

The task force report doesn’t say whom in Snyder’s inner circle was present at the midsummer meeting.

But the task force’s interviews of governor’s office staff was limited to the governor himself, then-Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore and senior aides Rich Baird and Harvey Hollins.

The first news reports about concerns over lead in Flint’s water were published in early July.

During this same time period, Hollins was coordinating an anonymous donation and the quiet distribution of 1,500 faucet filters to remove lead.

The Snyder administration faced criticism for giving residents water filters Sept. 1 through a group of Flint pastors while still publicly contending the water was safe to drink.

Snyder has repeatedly said the water filters were meant to address concerns residents had with the smell, taste and appearance of the water, which appeared be orange-colored when it came out of some people’s taps.

The Detroit News first reported Feb. 12 that Snyder’s top aides began exploring the idea of giving residents faucet filters last March, nearly six months before they were quietly distributed to residents.

Meijer and Clorox donated the water filters and their identity was kept secret until the governor’s office disclosed their names in a release of internal emails last month.

On Monday, Snyder issued an expansive 75-point plan for dealing with Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis going forward.

The plan stopped short of calling for the complete replacement of thousands of underground lead service water lines leading from the street and into people’s homes in Flint.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood