White House ‘concerned’ about Flint water crisis

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

The White House is monitoring Flint’s water contamination crisis “very closely” but Michigan officials have not yet asked the federal government for emergency assistance, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff said Sunday.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told host Chuck Todd that Flint’s water woes are on the administration’s radar.

“Obviously very concerned about it, but I don’t have any news to make with you on that today, Chuck,” McDonough said. “We’re watching it very closely, but nobody has asked us anything yet.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for Genesee County and his chief medical executive said Thursday Flint’s water is not safe to drink without a filter to remove toxic lead particles.

Snyder has not sought federal disaster assistance for toxic lead leaching into Flint’s drinking water supply after the city drew its water from the corrosive Flint River from April 2014 until October, when the city switched back to Detroit’s water supply from Lake Huron.

The Snyder administration has been dogged for weeks about its slow response to the crisis. State officials and volunteers spent the weekend activating “water resource sites” at five Flint firehouses to provide residents with free bottled water, faucet filters, replacement cartridges and water testing kits.

Todd asked McDonough whether the Obama administration is prepared to deploy disaster relief teams to Flint from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Well, again, we’re going to watch this very closely,” McDonough said. “I’m going to be very careful what I say about this.”

But FEMA has deployed three workers to provide technical assistance at the State Emergency Operations Center in Lansing, said Nicole Lisabeth, spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police.

The FEMA employees were deployed at the request Capt. Chris Kelenske, deputy director of emergency management at the Michigan State Police, Lisabeth said.

“We’re closely monitoring the #FlintWater situation,” FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre wrote Friday on Twitter.

Snyder’s emergency declaration sets the stage for seeking federal assistance and can be renewed beyond its Feb. 1 expiration if the state cannot stop the lead contamination.

State health officials have confirmed 43 cases of elevated lead levels in the blood Flint residents, who complained for more than a year that the brownish Flint River smelled and caused rashes. Lead can cause irreversible brain and developmental damage in children and infants who ingest it through water or lead-based paint.


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