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Only seven emails sent by Gov. Rick Snyder related to the city's water system were included in Wednesday's release. (Photo: AP)

What Snyder Knew: Flint Email Dump Shows Attempts to Shift the Blame

As far back as February 2015, the governor's administration was informed of issues with Flint's water

Deirdre Fulton

Redacted emails released Wednesday by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder show that his administration was informed of problems with Flint's water almost a year ago, many months before the embattled governor or his staff begrudgingly admitted to bearing any responsibility for poisoning a city—or for fixing the problem.

A background memo sent to the governor on February 1, 2015, "dismissed the pleas of Flint's then-mayor Dayne Walling for state assistance, saying that the mayor had 'seized on public panic … to ask the state for loan forgiveness and more money for infrastructure improvement'," the Guardian reports from Detroit.

According to FOX2 Detroit, the email says the governor and Walling "had a telephone conversation and the mayor has pledged to work together on solutions." Furthermore, it adds that Flint Representative Sheldon Neeley had "sent the governor a letter, saying that his constituents are on the verge of civil unrest" due to the water issue. 

Also included in the backgrounder were statements from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, listing three factors affecting the appearance of water in Flint. CNN reports:

"It's the Flint River," it said first. "With hard water, you get a different flavor and feel. It's why General Motors suspended use of Flint Water—it was rusting their parts."

Second, "the system is old. Flint has more than 500 miles of water pipes. More than half of those pipe miles are more than 75 years old. Much of it is cast iron. Hard water can react with cast iron and exacerbates the rusty factor, which creates that brown water that angry residents were holding up in jugs for the media cameras last week."

And third, "Flint is old. Many of the homes served by the system are old. Brown water complaints may also be attributable to cast iron pipes in customers' service connection to the city lines," the backgrounder read.

"This should have been a red flag," FOX2 points out. "The water was rusting GM's parts—but safe to drink?"

In fact, the cost-saving measure of switching the city’s drinking water source from Detroit to the polluted Flint River had for months corroded the inside of pipes in thousands of households across the city, leaching chemicals including lead into the water supply.

As the Guardian notes: "Soon after the memo was sent to Snyder, researchers and journalists uncovered a fact that is now well-established: as a result of the state’s failure to properly apply federal standards in treating the Flint river, thousands of residents have been exposed to lead, a neurotoxin that can produce long-term health effects, particularly in young children."

Wednesday's document dump spans 274 pages and includes communications on Flint water issues, public safety, and lawsuits. However, according to MLive, "only seven emails sent by Snyder on the city's water system were included in the distribution."

But emails from his staffers outline concerns that the issue was being "politicized and that the state's responsibility for the crisis was being exaggerated," the Detroit Free Press reports, even as they show attempts to shift the blame.

"I can't figure out why the state is responsible except that [then-treasurer Andy] Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we're not able to avoid the subject," Snyder's chief of staff Dennis Muchmore, who retired on Tuesday, wrote to Snyder in a Sept. 25, 2015, e-mail.

"The DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality] and DCH [Department of Community Health] feel that some in Flint are taking the very sensitive issue of children's exposure to lead and trying to turn it into a political football claiming the departments are underestimating the impacts on the populations and particularly trying to shift responsibility to the state," said Muchmore.

"The real responsibility rests with the county, city and KWA," he wrote, referring to the Karegnondi Water Authority. "But since the issue here is the health of citizens and their children, we're taking a proactive approach."

As they continue, "[t]he messages detail a realization over three weeks that Dillon was not the administration’s only tie to the crisis," The Detroit News reports. "On Oct. 2 the state acknowledged that its test results failed to identify increasing lead levels in children; on Oct. 18 the Department of Environmental Quality chief told Snyder the agency mistakenly failed to require corrosion controls on Flint River water."

And they only stoke the anger of residents like Pete Nichols, who spoke to MLive while picking up bottles of water from a downtown fire station on a recent weekday.

"Somebody needs to go to jail for this, man," said Nichols. "They're poisoning an entire community. A generation of kids will never recover from this. And it's all just to save a few dollars. They played a game of chess with our lives and we lost."


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