Michigan Governor: Sorry About That Lead-Contaminated Water

Flint’s water supply has put the city’s children at risk, researchers say.
(Photo: Steve Russell/Getty Images)
Dec 30, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

More than a year after Flint, Michigan, switched its main water supply from Detroit’s water system to its local river as a cost-cutting measure, Gov. Rick Snyder publicly apologized for the extensive lead contamination that resulted. Along with his mea culpa on Tuesday, Snyder accepted the resignation of the state’s chief environmental quality regulator, Reuters reported.

The departmental upset comes less than a month after Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency to draw attention to how the high levels of lead in the water supply were impacting the city’s children.

“I want the Flint community to know how very sorry I am that this has happened,” Snyder said. “And I want all Michigan citizens to know that we will learn from this experience, because Flint is not the only city that has an aging infrastructure.”

The resignation of Dan Wyant, director of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, came as a governor-appointed task force said Wyant’s department was largely responsible for the water fiasco in Flint.

A study from Michigan’s Hurley Medical Center released in September found the number of children and infants in Flint with above average lead levels in their blood had almost doubled since the city switched its water supply. At the time, city and state officials said their testing of tap water in homes throughout the city registered levels of lead below the federal limit, according to Michigan Live.

The lead itself came not from the Flint River but from the lead pipes in more than 15,000 homes in the city. Researchers found the river’s water was 19 times more corrosive than the water from Lake Huron, the previous source. In October, Flint switched back to its previous water supply, but Weaver said lead levels were still too high.

“This is a catastrophe,” pediatrician and lead researcher Mona Hanna-Attisha told NPR after the state of emergency was declared. “If we don’t do something right now to help our infrastructure and to help our children, we will see costly consequences for decades and generations to come.”

Excessive lead exposure in children and infants can slow development and growth and can cause irritability, learning disabilities, and other symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.