Ex-Flint official: DEQ ignored plant warning

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint — The former water utilities administrator for this city said Thursday the water treatment plant was not ready when it opened in April 2014 and he tried to warn two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees after he was rebuffed by city officials.

Robert Harrison, left, and his client Michael Glasgow at the defense table.

This was the testimony of Michael Glasgow, who said in 67th District Court that he reached out to DEQ employees Michael Prysby, Stephen Busch and Adam Rosenthal via email with concerns that no one from the state running Flint was listening to him.

“I wanted a little support. ... I just wanted some kind type of a response,” Glasgow said. “Management of the city of Flint wouldn’t listen to me. So it was my only other place to go.”

The testimony came in the preliminary exam hearing for water regulators Busch, Prysby and Patrick Cook as well as Liane Shekter Smith, the fired former head of the DEQ division responsible for overseeing Flint’s water source switch.

Shekter Smith and Busch each had a charge of involuntary manslaughter added in June 2017. Attorney General Bill Schuette accused them and four others of failing to alert the public about a 2014-15 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area that killed 12 people and sickened another 79 individuals.

Glasgow said he had concerns about opening the treatment plant, such as the need for 90 to 180 days of continuous testing before it was ready. In April 16 and 17 email exchanges with Rosenthal, Glasgow said lead and copper samplings had “been increasing dramatically.”

He then wrote and read in court, “I do not anticipate giving the ok to be sending water out anytime soon. If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple of weeks, it will be against my direction.” Management above him, he said, seemed “to have their own agenda.”

“I felt like things were moving a little fast,” said Glasgow, who accepted a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the plant could work right. I think the city was rushing to meet a deadline to turn the plant on.”

When asked by Special Prosecutor Todd Flood if he had expressed concerns about this, Glasgow said, “I did. I voiced it to my management in the city. And when they didn’t seem to listen, I had to contact a couple of DEQ staff via email about my concerns.”

Glasgow pleaded guilty in May to a reduced charge of willful neglect of duty, a one-year misdemeanor. Sentencing for Glasgow was set aside as long as he cooperates with Schuette’s office.

Earlier, Flood asked Glasgow if he had a “qualified staff.” The former administrator said “when we were able to bring new people on, they weren’t the most qualified.”

“Prior to the switch we were a skeleton crew, we were a standby plan only used in emergencies,” he said. “So the people that I had at that time were qualified, they had been around the plant a long time. When we stepped up to run full time, we needed to hire a significant amount of employees, pretty much double our workforce to cover seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”

Two of the new hires had some “water experience or had been through college classes involving water treatment and chemistry,” he said.

In the lead-up to the water switch, Glasgow said “there were a lot of projects going on, upgrades that needed to be done before the plant would actually be capable of treating water.” Those projects, he said, were not completed.

A Genesee County water expert testified Thursday that he did not see any corrosion controls at the Flint Water Treatment plant before it went active in April 2014.

John O’Brien, director of water and water quality services for Genesee County, made the comments under direct questioning in the preliminary hearing of four Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees who face criminal charges relating to the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis.

A governor’s task force in 2016 said the lack of corrosion controls for Flint River water led to lead contamination in the city’s drinking water.

O’Brien talked about how water can stagnate and age when not in use in certain areas. And that chlorine used to treat the water fades over time and no longer remains effective to rid the water of bacteria.

Cross examination of O’Brien by Busch attorney Deday LeRene began with questions about how water quality in Flint would be affected by Flint’s population decline and a resulting reduction in the use of water. O’Brien agreed that the developments would have had an effect.


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