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Task force lays most blame for Flint water crisis on MDEQ

Dec 29, 2015

MDEQ Director Dan Wyant at a recent press conference.
Credit screen grab / MLive UStream

A task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder says Michigan's environmental regulatory agency is primarily responsible for the state's failure to ensure safe drinking water for Flint residents.

The Flint Water Advisory Task Force says in a letter to Snyder that the state Department of Environmental Quality "must be held accountable for that failure."

The letter was made public Tuesday. You can read it here.

Corrosive Flint River water leached lead from service pipes into homes after the city switched last year from Detroit water. Elevated blood-lead levels later were found in some children.

Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and spokesman Brad Wurfel both resigned Tuesday.

Task force co-chair Ken Sikkema says in the letter that "Flint residents were exposed to toxic levels of lead in their water primarily due to a regulatory culture of passive technical compliance."

The FWATF letter stated in part:

“We believe the primary responsibility for what happened in Flint rests with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Although many individuals and entities at state and local levels contributed to creating and prolonging the problem, MDEQ is the government agency that has responsibility to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan. It failed in that responsibility and must be held accountable for that failure.”

“The City of Flint’s water customers—fellow Michigan citizens—were needlessly and tragically exposed to toxic levels of lead through their drinking water supply. They deserve a commitment to properly assess responsibility and ensure accountability. They also deserve a commitment to needed mitigation in both the short and long term. The Flint water crisis never should have happened. Having failed to prevent it, state government should coordinate a sustained, public-health-focused response to remedy, to the fullest extent possible, the impacts on the Flint community.”

The letter outlined three areas where MDEQ failed:

  • Regulatory Failure
  • Failure in Substance and Tone of MDEQ Response to the Public
  • Failure in MDEQ Interpretation of the Lead and Copper Rule

This is the second letter sent by the Task Force. The first, sent earlier this month, made several recommendations concerning coordination of state efforts that were supported and implemented by Governor Snyder.

The full FWATF report is expected to be completed in early 2016.

Members of the Task Force include:

Matthew Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., is professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System and professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School at the University of Michigan.

Chris Kolb is president of the Michigan Environmental Council.

Lawrence Reynolds, M.D., is a pediatrician in Flint who serves as president of the Mott Children’s Health Center.

Eric Rothstein is a national water issues consultant and principal at the Galardi Rothstein Group. He served as an independent advisor on the creation of the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Ken Sikkema is a senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants. (Full Disclosure - he is also a regular commenter on Michigan Radio.)

The FWATF was formed by Governor Snyder to review actions regarding the Flint water system and offer recommendations both for Flint and Michigan to protect the health and safety of state residents.