Our Editorial: EPA passive on Flint water
The Snyder administration faces a growing problem with the contaminated water in Flint. The response from Lansing has been too little, too late. And even though officials at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have stepped down, and investigations are ongoing, Gov. Rick Snyder and the state will ultimately be held accountable for any long-term damage to residents.
But the federal Environmental Protection Agency failed the public, too, failing to sound a public alarm when alerted to warning signs spelled out to agency workers almost a year ago. With a clear mission to protect human health and the environment, the EPA must be held to the same standard of accountability as state agencies.
In fact, government agencies at the local, state and federal levels ignored concerns about Flint’s water until the evidence was so overwhelming they had no choice but to act. Instead, private entities — a pediatrician in Flint and a private researcher outside the state — closely monitored the water quality and were credited for bringing the issue to light.
The EPA doesn’t have a great track record. Last year it unleashed millions of tons of toxic sludge into a vital Colorado river.
Further, the agency has no qualms about getting involved in even the smallest details of the nation’s water sources. It would seem possible contamination of the water source in a relatively large U.S. city would be a top priority priority of the health-conscious agency.
A memo from Miguel Del Toral, an EPA regulations manager at Region 5’s Drinking Water Branch, indicates the agency realized that as of April last year, Flint was no longer using corrosion control treatment for lead and copper. He told his supervisor Susan Hedman it was a “major concern from a public health standpoint” and a clear problem for drinking water.
“Recent drinking water sample results indicate the presence of high lead results in the drinking water,” the email reads.
One week later, Region 5 Director Susan Hedman didn’t seem to think the lack of corrosion controls was a problem, according to her emails with then-Flint Mayor Dayne Walling.
“The preliminary draft report should not have been released outside the agency,” Hedman wrote.
“When the report has been revised and fully vetted by EPA management, the findings and recommendations will be shared with the city and (Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality) and DEQ will be responsible for following up with the city.”
The revised report was eventually released — four months later.
The state was too slow to respond to Flint’s crisis, and information will continue to be released about why that happened. But so was the EPA.
At a minimum, the EPA’s failed response illustrates a flaw in the system on their end, and also reveals just how ineffective government regulations, in this case the Lead and Copper Rule, can be, without adequate monitoring.
Once it was clear lead and copper were being released into Flint’s drinking water, someone at the EPA or the MDEQ should have taken appropriate action.