Michigan Speeds Up Flint Drinking Water Aid Efforts

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By Nora Macaluso

Jan. 11 — Michigan is accelerating efforts to help Flint citizens address a crisis caused when their water supply became contaminated with lead as a result of a cost-saving move to switch the city's water source, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said Jan. 11.

Snyder—apologizing anew for the crisis at a press conference at Flint City Hall—said his administration is talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but hasn't yet made a “specific request for assistance.” In the meantime, he said state and local agencies are working with volunteers and others to make sure every Flint resident has access to water filters, bottled water and water testing services.

“Flint has been a challenged community for some time,” Snyder said. “This water crisis has been a setback. The state will be working hard to partner with the city on additional resources” for community and economic development and early childhood education, he said.

“Some of the problems we're going to be facing, we haven't figured out what to do yet,” Mayor Karen Weaver said at the news conference. Children who have been poisoned by lead are likely to develop behavior issues, learning disabilities and other problems, and “we know we have to get services and support to these kids and these families,” she said.

Snyder said the state will also give more authority to Weaver, who was elected in November. The city is transitioning from the control of a governor-appointed emergency manager. Flint saw four separate emergency managers between December 2011 and April 2015; the switch to Flint River water from the Detroit water system was made under one of them as a money-saving move .

Eden Wells, Michigan's chief medical officer, said caseworkers have visited homes in which residents have been found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood but have not yet installed water filters. “We're continuing to work hard” to communicate with residents, Snyder said.

Also Jan. 11, Snyder signed an executive order creating an interagency coordinating committee to “bring together a wide range of experts to work on long-term solutions to the Flint water situation and ongoing public health concerns affecting residents.” The 17-member committee will include state and local representatives and three “subject matter experts” appointed by the governor, the order said.

Snyder, under fire for his administration's perceived foot-dragging on the crisis, said he has a “degree of responsibility” for the situation, but is taking proactive steps to fix it.

“Now we're in the mode of saying, let's focus on how we get safe drinking water in Flint, both short term and long term,” he said. “We have to deal with the crisis we have today,” he said. “I think we're trying to be proactive in a partnership context. This is hopefully understanding we needed to elevate the dialogue and take it to the next level.”

The lead issue may not be limited to Flint, Snyder said. “Longer term, we need to look at how we deal with aging infrastructure in Michigan for water and sewer,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nora Macaluso in Detroit at nmacaluso@bna.com

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

For More Information 
Snyder's executive order is available at http://src.bna.com/bYf.