WSU prof: State health officials opposed Flint testing

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint -- A Wayne State University professor hired to study the Legionnaires’ outbreak in Flint said Friday he was “disgusted” by Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon’s comment that he “can’t save everyone.”

Shawn McElmurry, who was testifying during the involuntary manslaughter preliminary exam hearing of Lyon, said the comment came during a May 2016 meeting in Lansing.

It was an intense meeting in which state health officials opposed “enhanced surveillance” of all the homes that could be affected by Legionella, the bacteria that leads to a deadly form of pneumonia.

McElmurry said Lyon and others were reticent about further testing of water filters because of the fear that they would “find something bad” in an overall theme that state officials were reluctant to increased testing.

McElmurry was on a task force ordered by Gov. Rick Snyder to study if Flint’s April 2014 switch to the Flint River was the reason for the Legionionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 Flint area residents. McElmurry said his team tried to impress on Lyon and others the grave situation if they didn’t do more testing.

When Lyon made the comment about not being able to save everyone, McElmurry said, “it was not a joke. It was quite disgusting to hear.” He said he was “caught off guard” by the comment.

The task force, McElmurry testified, was trying to figure out the Legionella outbreak and how it get under control if the water switch was the cause of it. But concerns began to rise among members of his task force that the state wasn’t taking it seriously enough, he said.

McElmurry recalled how Dr. Marcus Zervos, a member of the task force who has already testified in the Lyon case, was visibly upset during a bathroom break. Zervos told McElmurry, he testified, that they “should just throw in the towel and go to the media” with the Health and Human Services department’s reluctance to address the monitoring for Legionnaires’ disease “at a level we thought was important to do.”

Lyon attorney Chip Chamberlain and special prosecutor Todd Flood sparred constantly over the meeting. Chamberlain said the meeting was about funding and that McElmurry’s statements were inflammatory and misleading.

“The man can’t spend money he doesn’t have,” Chamberlain said of Lyon.

The case is in its eighth day of hearings for Lyon, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office. The manslaughter charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine, while the misconduct charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine.

The preliminary exam will continue Dec. 1 before 67th District Court Judge David Goggins, who will be deciding if the Lyon case goes to trial.


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