In the latest fallout from Flint, Michigan's public health crisis of lead poisoning its drinking water, Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday said he was "very sorry" and the state's top environmental official resigned. One advocacy group, however, says that full accountability and transparency for this "man-made catastrophe" are still absent.
That catastrophe began in April 2014, as the Rust Belt city was under control of an emergency manager, and it moved its water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River without the proper corrosive controls. Lead leached from pipes, putting thousands of the city's children at risk of brain damage from the contamination and prompting local outcry. A local pediatrician has called it an "emergency" situation that is "alarming and absolutely gut-wrenching."
The latest developments are in response to initial findings released by a Snyder-appointed task force charged with looking into how and why the crisis came to be. The body put most of the blame on Michigan's environmental regulatory agency.
In a letter (pdf) addressed to Snyder, Flint Water Advisory Task Force members write, in part,
We believe the primary responsibility for what happened in Flint rests with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Although many individuals and entities at state and local levels contributed to creating and prolonging the problem, MDEQ is the government agency that has responsibility to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan. It failed in that responsibility and must be held accountable for that failure.
The letter goes on to fault a "minimalist approach" in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance (ODWMA) at MDEQ "to regulatory and oversight responsibility [that] is unacceptable and simply insufficient to the task of public protection"; and states that the "agency's response [to public concerns] was often one of aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved."
It further states that the agency's decision not to call for "optimized corrosion control treatment" as per the federal Lead and Copper rule "led directly to the contamination of the Flint water system."
On Tuesday, both Dan Wyant, director of the MDEQ, and Brad Wurfel, DEQ spokesman, resigned.
Synder said in a media statement that it was "appropriate to accept " Wyant's resignation, adding, "I want the Flint community to know how very sorry I am that this has happened. And I want all Michigan citizens to know that we will learn from this experience."
He acknowledged that "many Flint citizens are angry and want more than an apology," and said, "When it comes to matters of health and quality of life, we’re committed to doing everything we can to protect the well-being of our citizens."
But the Lansing-based group Progress Michigan says that the people of Flint still need justice.
"So far under Gov. Rick Snyder’s watch, there has been zero accountability in this crisis and that continues today," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. "Dan Wyant gets to walk away from this crisis, but the people of Flint do not. There's a lot we don’t know about this man-made catastrophe.
"What did Gov. Snyder know and when did he know it? We need complete transparency so that justice for the families of Flint can be realized and the proper people can be held accountable. All documentation related this this crisis needs to be released to the public immediately," Scott stated.