Health

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Denies Switch To Flint River Water Was Financially Motivated

On Sunday, the Democratic presidential candidates held a debate in Flint, Michigan — a city left in disrepair after government officials stopped importing drinking water from Detroit and instead made the corrosive Flint River its primary water source, which wore away at plumbing material and introduced dangerous levels of lead into the water.

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Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to resign over his role in the Flint water crisis, and he blithely responded on Twitter, denying responsibility for the national controversy. [update 2:56 pm EST] Snyder, in the past, has taken responsibility for the crisis, telling Flint residents that he was sorry and would "fix it" during his State of the State speech in January.

The problem with Synder's excuse is two-fold. First, as the state's governor, Synder controls the "emergency managers" who authorized the water source shift. In fact, he appointed each of them. Snyder's appointee also ran The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, "which ignored and obscured evidence of the developing lead problem to an almost unbelievable degree," Slate reports.

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So while Snyder is right that the crisis was a multilevel, bureaucratic failure, he is ultimately accountable for the "massive error." But what of Snyder's denial that it was "never about money," as Clinton and Sanders alleged during Sunday's debate?

The decision to use water from the Flint River rather than Detroit was actually all about money. Flint's financial problems are well documented, and the emergency managers' primary motive was to cut costs for the city.

"One money-saving move was to stop buying drinking water from Detroit, which charged Flint $21 million in 2011," Vox reports. "Flint planned to join a new countywide water treatment system that, like Detroit, drew water from Lake Huron, but that system wasn't yet fully built. So in April 2014, the city began using treated water from the Flint River as a stopgap."

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The result of the systemic failure, as the Democratic candidates pointed out, was that thousands of Flint's residents — including around 8,000 children — may have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their tap water. The water crisis has prompted a federal investigation, and there remains deep distrust of city officials in the aftermath of Synder's "massive error."

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include additional information about Gov. Snyder's response to the Flint water crisis. ATTN: did not reach out to Synder's office prior to publication. We regret the error.

In addition, a representative for Gov. Snyder's office reached out to ATTN: after publication to clarify that the governor has taken responsibility for the Flint water crisis in the past.

Read the full statement below:

"The Governor has apologized, taken responsibility for fixing the crisis in Flint, and taken responsibility for the actions undertaken – or perhaps more correctly not undertaken – by people who work(ed) for him at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Also, to clarify, the switch from Detroit water did not cause lead to leach from the pipes in Flint. The Flint River water does NOT contain lead. The problem is the failure of government at all levels in not treating the water with the proper corrosion control chemicals and in not acting to protect the people of Flint. Bureaucrats in Michigan were busy checking off boxes instead of using common sense and when water experts at the EPA tried to speak out, they were silenced by their managers.

Had the bureaucrats at the state and federal level done their jobs correctly, the water would have been treated correctly and the protective coating in the pipes would never have been corroded and the lead wouldn’t be in the water. The Flint River has been the city’s official back up source to Detroit water for decades. The lead pipes have been lurking underground waiting to spew lead for decades, but were held in check by Detroit water, which contains corrosion control chemicals. If you pump Detroit water without those chemicals through the pipes of Flint, you would still get lead contamination. It’s the same story in city after city across Michigan and across the United States."

 

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