Among those identified as responsible for the severe lead contamination of the city’s water were the governor’s office, the state environmental agency and emergency managers appointed by Snyder to run Flint over a four-year period when key decisions that caused the crisis were made.
“Emergency managers made key decisions that contributed to the crisis, from the use of the Flint River to delays in reconnecting to DWSD [Detroit water and sewerage department] once water quality problems were encountered,” the 116-page report from the taskforce found. “Given the demographics of Flint, the implications for environmental injustice cannot be ignored or dismissed.”
The water crisis, the panel said, “leads us to the inescapable conclusion that this is a case of environmental injustice.”
“Flint residents, who are a majority black or African American and among the most impoverished of any metropolitan area in the US, did not enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards as that provided to other communities,” the report said.
“Moreover, by virtue of their being subject to emergency management, Flint residents were not provided equal access to, and meaningful involvement in, the government decision-making process.”
The report also called for Michigan’s emergency manager law to be reviewed, saying measures should be identified to “compensate for the loss of the checks and balances that are provided by representative government”.
The report highlighted revelations that Snyder’s top aides were aware of alarming concerns with Flint’s water supply for months, long before the governor conceded the city’s water wasn’t safe to drink.
The suggestion, for example, by Snyder aides in October 2014 that Flint should reconnect with its former water supplier “should have resulted, at a minimum, in a full and comprehensive review of the water situation in Flint”, the report stated.
At the time, Snyder’s top legal counsel told the governor’s then chief of staff that using the Flint river as a water supply was “downright scary” and said Flint “should try to get back on the Detroit system as a stopgap ASAP before this thing gets too far out of control”. Flint’s water became contaminated in April 2014, after a state-appointed emergency manager implemented the city’s switch from Lake Huron water to a local river as a cost-saving measure.
Indeed, the report found the suggestion to reconnect with Detroit was rebuffed by state officials because it would be too expensive for the cash-strapped city, at $1m per month. (Michigan has now appropriated nearly $70m to address the crisis).
The panel championed the role that Flint activists and journalists played in uncovering the contamination. For months, state officials actively dismissed complaints and concerns – bolstered by thorough third-party research – that Flint residents were drinking lead-contaminated water.
“Without their courage and persistence, this crisis likely never would have been brought to light and mitigation efforts never begun,” the report stated.
Snyder, who appointed the taskforce last October to investigate what caused the Flint water crisis, said he appreciated the recommendations and findings.
“Many of the recommendations made in this report are already being implemented, both within my own office and in various state departments,” the governor said in a statement. “We are taking dozens of actions to change how we operate – not just to hold ourselves accountable, but to completely change state government’s accountability to the people we serve.”
More than 60 key individuals were interviewed by the taskforce, but former legal counsel and communications staff with knowledge of the water contamination declined. The taskforce did not have subpoena power to compel individuals to comment.
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