WSU prof: Flint water switch prompted outbreak
Flint — A Wayne State University professor hired by the state to investigate the Flint area Legionnaires’ outbreak said Wednesday that the city’s switch to more corrosive water helped spur Legionella growth.
Shawn McElmurry, an environmental engineering associate professor at WSU, gave a lengthy description of the condition of Flint’s water pipes and how they became corroded during the seventh day of the involuntary manslaughter preliminary exam of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon.
With a combination of “iron and high amounts of organic matter” and chloride, bacteria in the drinking water could grow Legionella and harm people, McElmurry said. About 12 people died and 79 were sickened in Genesee County by Legionnaires’ disease in 2014-15, and Lyon is being blamed in the death of a Genesee Township man.
McElmurry surmised that the Legionella growth was prompted by the city’s change from the Detroit-area water source to the Flint River in April 2014. During his group’s research, they found 284 homes with Legionella, he testified, and speculated there were “undiagnosed cases of Legionnaires’ disease that might be just diagnosed as pneumonia.”
He also said the work his team tried to complete was unfinished.
“There were objections raised to different parts of it at different times,” McElmurry said about the testing. “On some occasions, Lyon was not in favor of us doing this.”
There was a particular time when McElmurry said Lyon told him the state didn’t want his team to collect kitchen faucet filters to test for Legionella.
Earlier in the day, he recalled from the stand that Harvey Hollins, Gov. Rick Snyder’s urban affairs specialist, contacted McElmurry in 2015 at the behest of the governor to study the link between Legionella and the water switch, the associate professor testified.
“He said that the governor was trying to understand whether or not the change in water supply caused the Legionnaires’ outbreak,” McElmurry said. “He said, ‘Can you determine that?’ I alone couldn’t do it, but that I could get a team of people together to try to address that question.”
McElmurry said Hollins asked how much it would cost, and he indicated the study could cost roughly $1 million, to which Hollins replied, “Money was no issue, no problem.”
Earlier in the hearing, special prosecutor Todd Flood complained to 67th District Court Judge David Goggins about the way emails have been turned over from the state and defense attorneys to the special prosecutors.
Flood, whose first foray into Flint was to help the city strategize its “shrinking city problem,” said the scanner or OCR the prosecutors used could not catch the accuracy of names and spellings and his team found “several errors in the metadata for which we could not search” specific names and topics.
“This is just one of several issues that we’ve found in the last five days,” Flood told the judge.
Chip Chamberlain, one of Lyon’s attorneys, said the databases are not maintained by the state Department of Health and Human Services or Lyon, “and between the two of us we know very little about this.”
In the past, defense attorneys have complained about the failure of Flood and the Attorney General’s Office to turn over charging evidence to them.