FBI Aids Criminal Investigation Into Flint's Water Crisis

Federal prosecutors have confirmed their inquiry into criminal wrongdoing.
Darius Simpson, an Ohio resident, volunteers to bring water to Flint residents on Jan. 24. (Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Feb 2, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

The lengthy list of local, state, and federal officials trying to get to the bottom of Flint, Michigan’s water-contamination crisis grew late Monday, when federal officials confirmed the FBI had stepped in to help. Prosecutors from the FBI joined investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit told the Detroit Free Press. The federal investigators are assessing whether or not state officials will be criminally charged.

The lead contamination in Flint began in April 2014 when state officials switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in a cost-cutting move. The corrosive quality of the new water source leached lead from the city’s pipe system into drinking water, exposing and poisoning families citywide.

Residents and researchers in Flint attempted to draw attention to the poor water quality for months but were ignored until October 2015. In January, Gov. Rick Snyder apologized to the people of Flint, declared a state of emergency, and requested federal assistance.

“The people of Flint have lost their trust in government. Every single level of government in this case has failed the people,” Anjali Waikar, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Christian Science Monitor. “Rebuilding that trust is a long road.”

Walker’s organization is one of several that filed a federal lawsuit in January on behalf of residents, asking a federal court to step in to hold officials responsible.

Meanwhile, families in Flint are relying on water filters and donated bottled water to cook, drink, and bathe. Experts assigned to a task force by Snyder to assess the next steps predict it will take months to replace all the city’s lead pipes—a process that Snyder hasn’t committed to.

"What I can tell you is I firmly believe that the light is shining so brightly on the city of Flint right now, that if there were any entity that had any negative or malicious reason to slow things down, there's no way they could do that," Laura Sullivan, a mechanical engineering professor on the task force, told NPR. "And if there's any entity that has the ability to make things right, they're being empowered to do that."