Ex-official: Flint water plant plagued by problems

Leonard N. Fleming

Flint — The city’s former water utilities administrator said Friday the water system generated a huge number of resident complaints about odor and color two months after the city’s April 2014 switch to river water.

Michael Glasgow testified for the second day in 67th District Court that the Flint water treatment plant did not have the ability to use phosphate coating to keep the pipes from rusting and the water clean. His testimony was peppered with complicated terminology about the lack of corrosion controls and how Michigan Department of Quality officials didn’t help stop the plant from running when clear warning signs were present.

A task force appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder found in 2016 that the lack of the use of corrosion control chemicals in the corrosive river water resulted in lead leaching into Flint’s drinking water.

There was no chlorine in the water system, which was a serious concern, Glasgow said during the preliminary exam for four suspended or former MDEQ officials charged with crimes and misdemeanors in the Flint water crisis. He spoke in front of 67th District Court Judge Jennifer Manley, who will decide if the case goes to trial.

“There should always be a significant level of chlorine in the water,” he said.

The complaints about the water quality a few months after the water switch came into the plant itself. Officials there kept track of complaints over the years in three-inch-thick binders.

“What would happen when a citizen complained of water quality or the like?” asked Special Prosecutor Todd Flood.

“Most of the time, we would end up making a visit to the residents if they would allow,” Glasgow said. “A lot of times, we’d do some testing right there from their taps, mainly chlorine testing, disinfectant residual and a bacteria sample.”

Glasgow said there was a “pretty significant difference” between those samples and ones prior to the water switch. “We always had complaints roughly ... a couple complaint calls every month,” he said. “It was significant in the fact that we had a hard time responding to every single complaint.”

People complained of rusty water and breaking out in rashes, he said.

During Thursday’s testimony, Glasgow said he had appealed to state DEQ officials Stephen Busch, Michael Prysby and Adam Rosenthal that the Flint water treatment plant was not ready to be activated in April 2014. He said Friday that he couldn’t remember if any DEQ official came to Flint to inspect the water plant before it was turned on.

Bush and Prysby are the subjects of the preliminary exam, along with Patrick Cook and 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 testified that no one from MDEQ came out to tell him or others not the run the plant for a minimum of 90 days. Nor did anyone from the state agency come out to review the plant after the second boiled water alert in September 2014, he said.

Fecal coliform bacteria were found in the water system in August 2014, and there was a boiled water alert, said Glasgow, who took a plea deal in exchange for his testimony.

After a second boiled water alert in September of that year, DEQ officials did not come to Flint to check out the water plant, he said.

Glasgow also testified that the Flint water treatment plant did not have the ability to use phosphate coating to treat the pipes and water to keep the pipes from rusting and the water clean.

Glasgow’s second day on the stand started out talking about email warnings to Busch and Prysby about how those running Flint wouldn’t slow down the plant start and why he deleted the emails, the topic that ended Thursday’s testimony.

“After a week of not a response, I figured this was really happening, now there was nothing I could do to stop the plant from operation,” he said. “And I was worried that I didn’t want to leave that email out there. I would just (as soon) get rid of it. I said my peace, to no avail, to many different entities and left it at that and tried to focus on getting the plant ready to run.”