FBI Probes Flint Water Crisis for Criminal Conduct

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By Brian Dabbs

Feb. 2 — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing the Flint, Mich., water crisis to determine whether lead contamination of the city's water involved criminal conduct, the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 2.

The FBI is part of multi-pronged task force that also includes two Environmental Protection Agency offices and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

A spokeswoman for the FBI's Detroit Office, Jill Washburn, declined to comment on the timing of the FBI's original involvement in the crisis but said the agency is committed to uncovering illegal behavior.

“Our role will be to determine whether there were federal violations that occurred,” Washburn said. “That's all we're saying.”

FBI Involvement Latest in Federal Intervention

The revelation of FBI involvement is the latest in a string of federal intervention efforts, beginning in early January with the announcement of a joint Department of Justice and EPA investigation .

Residents, lawmakers and advocates alike continue to point to government negligence in managing the city's drinking water system in a way that resulted in corroded pipes leaching lead into tap water.

Thousands of residents of Flint, northwest of Detroit, have been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water for more than a year, after the city began using the polluted Flint River as its main water source in an effort to cut costs. That contamination can afflict residents, including children, with long-term health problems.

During a Feb. 2 press conference in Flint, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy declined to comment on the investigations.

“There is obviously a criminal investigation going on obviously at DOJ,” McCarthy said. “There was an announcement that the FBI is engaged in that at this point. I think I need to let it take its course.”

McCarthy spoke alongside Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint pediatrician who first shed light on the lead contamination.

‘Need to Have an Independent Third Party.'

In an interview with Bloomberg BNA, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said the Justice Department should consider appointing a special prosecutor.

“There is a need to have an independent third party, gathering facts to see if there was a criminal activity of some kind,” Dingell said. “Get facts and hold those accountable who are responsible and make sure that this doesn’t ever happen in any other community in the United States.”

Dingell's district does not include Flint, but she has called for an aggressive response. A spokesman for Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who does represent Flint, also urged decisive action to deliver accountability for the community.

“Congressman Kildee supports any effort to hold people accountable for the actions that led to the Flint water crisis,” spokesman Mitchell Rivard told Bloomberg BNA. “Their investigation should be guided solely by the facts so that Flint families, who are the victims in this man-made tragedy, get the whole truth."

McCarthy said the EPA will continue to spearhead a thorough investigation and plan to restore Flint's water to drinkable quality. That plan includes chlorine detection, filter assessment and identification of high-concern areas, she said at the news conference.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called on his Republican colleagues Feb. 2 to support an amendment to the energy bill that would authorize $600 million to help the residents of Flint, Mich., respond to the drinking water crisis .

Meanwhile, the Baltimore law firm Murphy, Falcon & Murphy led the filing of a federal class action lawsuit against Michigan officials, including Gov. Rick Snyder. The accused “conspired to deprive residents of their right to contract for clear water,” the firm said on Feb. 2 in a news release. The lawsuit involves 31,000 households in Flint.

--With assistance from Amena Saiyid.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com