U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged his support to the Michigan city beset by a water contamination crisis, saying Flint had been “short-changed”.
Speaking from nearby Detroit, he said: “If I were a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kid’s health could be at risk.” The city’s water became contaminated when lead leached from old pipes after a change in supplier in 2014. Since then, residents have complained of bad smells, headaches and rashes. Unable to drink tap water, the National Guard has joined volunteers in distributing lead tests, filters and bottled water. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has faced calls to resign over the way he has handled the crisis. On Wednesday he released a batch of emails from 2014 and 2015 concerning the issue. One email suggests that a day after doctors reported high levels of lead in local children, one of the governor’s top advisers told him city officials, not state officials, had to “deal with it”. The switch to a river water source was a money-saving move when the city was under state financial management.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while saying it was reviewing its handling of the crisis and could have acted faster to inform the state of what measures it should take, also blamed the state on Tuesday. It said the agency’s oversight was hampered by “failures and resistance at the state and local levels.” Flint, under a state-appointed emergency manager, switched to Flint River water in April 2014 from the Lake Huron supply that Detroit uses to save money. Complaints about the water began within a month of the move. But Flint did not return to Detroit water until October 2015 after tests showed elevated levels of lead, which can cause brain damage and other health problems, in Flint tap water and in some children. Corrosive water from the river, known locally as a dumping ground, caused more lead to leach from Flint pipes than Detroit water did.