Mich. health director to testify before Congress

Chad Livengood and Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The leaders of Michigan’s departments of health and human services and environmental quality are scheduled to testify Wednesday before a congressional committee about Flint’s water crisis.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to call Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon to testify during a 10 a.m. Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill.

Lyon’s department is under scrutiny for failing to publicly disclose a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area that killed 10 people and sickened 78 others between June 2014 and October 2015.

The outbreak’s time frame corresponds with Flint’s temporary use of the Flint River for drinking water, though state scientists have been unable to directly link river water to the water-borne bacteria Legionnella that causes the respiratory disease.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s Flint water task force reported last month that Lyon knew about the Legionnaires’ outbreak a full year before informing the governor in January.

At Snyder’s request, the Health and Human Services inspector general and the state’s auditor general are conducting an investigation into what officials at the health department knew about the outbreak and why they never informed the public.

Snyder was asked Thursday after speaking at the Lansing Economic Club about whether Lyon or other HHS officials would be fired.

“I’m not going to pick particular names. I’ve asked for an investigation into DHHS, with the Office of Auditor General and inspector general,” Snyder told reporters. “They’re doing their work, so I have to await the outcome of that investigation, along with there are some other investigations that were already underway.”

The state health department has not made Lyon available for media interviews in recent weeks.

State DEQ Director Keith Creagh also is scheduled to testify before the committee. He previously testified about his department’s responsibility for Flint’s lead-contaminated water in February before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, which released its hearing witness list on Monday.

Upton and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, have focused their initial inquiry on what the Michigan DEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are doing to make Flint’s water safe again.

The committee’s witness list includes:

■ Joan Alker, Georgetown Center for Children and Families

■ Joel Beauvais, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water

■ Steve Estes-Smargiassi, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

■ Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint

■ Dr. Nicole Lurie, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

■ June Swallow, Rhode Island Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water Quality

■ Mae Wu, Natural Resources Defense Council

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter: @ChadLivengood