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Aug. 24 — The state of Michigan will challenge a confidential court order that interferes with two state agencies' efforts to monitor the drinking water crisis in Flint and a potential outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said Aug. 23.
Snyder called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to work with the Office of the Michigan Attorney General to challenge an order issued Aug. 17 by a Genesee County Circuit Court judge. The confidential order purports to bar the U.S. health agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality from coordinating with the Genesee County Health Department and McLaren Hospital on issues pertaining to Flint's drinking water problems and an emerging Legionnaire's Disease health threat. Genesee County includes Flint.
Administration officials declined to release details of the Aug. 17 order, but Snyder accused the circuit court of interfering with the state's authority to manage Flint's public health crisis.
“The number one priority for the department should be public health and it is unacceptable that a local court has tied the hands of state employees trying to do the right thing for the people they were hired to serve and protect,” Snyder said in a statement.
Snyder said the state would file a petition with the Michigan Court of Appeals, seeking to invalidate the circuit court's order.
A spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said state prosecutors would coordinate with the Snyder administration to preserve the state's investigative and monitoring authorities, and protect health data related to lead poisoning and Legionella deaths in Flint. The official said the Aug. 17 order reflects views that the state should not be trusted to preserve the public health of Genesee County residents.
“The suggestion that [Michigan health department] cannot do its job is simply untrue. However, to alleviate any misperceptions, steps are being taken to file an amended protective order,” said Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely in a statement. “These actions are all indicative of our aggressive investigation into finding justice for the victims of Flint, and we will proceed full speed ahead with our efforts.”
Bitely said Schuette continues to pursue his own investigation of the Flint drinking water crisis. Schuette already has filed charges against nine water quality and public health officials linked to the problem.
Lead concentrations well above federal safe drinking water standards have been documented in Flint after city officials began sourcing water from the Flint River in April 2014. More recently, fears of a Legionnaire's Disease problem have emerged. On Aug. 22 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon announced a sixth case of Legionella had been documented in Genesee County.
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