Michigan Under Investigation for Foul Play in Flint Water Crisis

Federal and state officials are looking into how state officials mishandled the city’s water supply.
(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Jan 15, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

The fallout from the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has a hefty new price tag: $41 million. On Thursday night, Gov. Rick Snyder called on the federal government to assist with the cost of emergency services associated with the lead contamination, The Washington Post reported. Then, on Friday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced he had opened an investigation to find out if the state violated any laws leading up to the contamination’s discovery.

“In 21st-century America, no one should have to fear something as basic as turning on the kitchen faucet,” Schuette said in a statement. “The situation in Flint is a human tragedy in which families are struggling with the most basic parts of daily life.”

Two years ago, the state decided to switch Flint’s main water supply from Lake Huron in Detroit to the Flint River in an effort to save money. The state had assumed responsibility of the city’s budget during a financial crisis. Researchers soon discovered that the water from the Flint River was 19 times more corrosive than that from Lake Huron. The corrosive quality eroded iron water mains, turning the water brown, and funneled lead into the water supply from the many lead service lines in the city.

Residents filed a federal class action lawsuit against the city and state in November, accusing the state of placing cost savings ahead of the health of its citizens.

Schuette’s investigation follows a probe started by the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this month as Snyder declared a state of emergency. On Thursday, more than 150 Flint residents flooded the lobby of the building where Snyder’s office is housed, demanding his resignation and arrest for what they say is his mishandling of the lead contamination.

“It took two months for [Snyder] to apologize, for him to declare a state of emergency, for him to offer bottled water,” Rochelle Riley, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, told NPR. “You’ve got residents who have been complaining about this water after it started to flow out of their taps slightly brown and tasting funny, and nobody cared.”

The crisis in Flint is exacerbated by its economic situation—40 percent of residents live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census—and has hit many of the city’s poorest residents hardest. Meanwhile, residents struggling to make ends meet continue to be billed for contaminated, undrinkable water, according to the Free Press.