A chastened Governor Rick Snyder took the opportunity of the State of the State address on Tuesday to say sorry for Flint’s worsening water crisis. As many as 8,000 children have been affected by toxic levels of lead in the tap water over the past two years.
“Your families face a crisis — a crisis you did not create and could not have prevented. To you, the people of Flint, I say tonight as I have before: I am sorry and I will fix it,” Snyder said. “Government failed you.”
Pressure has been building on Snyder to say sorry and to take full responsibility for the water crisis after FEMA did not fully meet his emergency funding call. In a tacit rebuke, his demands were knocked back as the water emergency was deemed to be man-made, and funds are meant for natural disasters.
There is no doubt it is a disaster. In some areas of Flint, the water delivered through the pipes was the equivalent of toxic waste. According to CBS News, the EPA standard is 15 parts of lead per billion. Half the water in the homes in Flint sampled had 1,000 parts per billion. The highest reading was 13,200 parts per billion which is twice what the EPA considers to be toxic waste.
Even the President has weighed in. In a whirlwind tour of Detroit on Wednesday for the North American International Auto Show, President Barack Obama said of the water crisis, “The only job that’s more important to me than president is the job of father. I would be beside myself if my kids’ health would be at risk. Yesterday I met with Mayor (Karen) Weaver, and I told her we’re going to have her back and all the people of Flint’s back as they work their way through this terrible tragedy. It is a reminder why you can’t shortchange basic services you provide your people.”
— World News Tonight (@WNTonight) January 21, 2016
Under this mounting pressure to admit fault, Snyder went further in the National Journal to say sorry when he said, “What I’d say is I feel terrible about it, though, and it’s clear that changes needed to be made in my administration and I think long-term, there are things that need to be improved… I want to solve this problem. I don’t want to walk away from it.”
When asked what went wrong in the water management of the Department of Environmental Quality, Snyder says “They were too technical,” says a sorry Gov. Snyder. “They followed literally the rules. They didn’t use enough common sense to say in a situation like this there should be more measures, more concern, and it has lead to this terrible tragedy that I’m sorry for, but I’m going to fix it.”
Demands for his sorry to be backed up by real action to the water crisis have escalated, but according to Snyder’s office, 26,500 cases of water, 50,200 water filters, more than 167,000 water filter replacement cartridges, and about 4,700 water-testing kits have been distributed.
Many call for much stronger action, but calls went unheard for Snyder to back his sorry with funds from the budget surplus in the State of the State address. Michigan announced a $575 million, one-time revenue surplus last week, and Flint State Representative Sheldon Neeley called for part of it to be used to mitigate the water crisis.
“The governor himself declared this is an emergency,” says Neeley.”An emergency means something. It means direct and immediate action. And so if we have a surplus, all other needs of the state need to take a back seat to what has been declared as an emergency.”
Promises of state funding for the water crisis were absent in the address. Donations of bottled water have poured into the city since the crisis first gained notoriety from high profile celebrities such as Cher, Meek Mill, ex-cons and Muslim groups.
Concerns have also been raised about the incline of cases of Legionnaire’s Disease in Flint, increasing from only 21 cases in 2012-2013, to 87 cases and 10 fatalities since the crisis began in the summer of 2014. There are thoughts that bathing in the water could cause the disease.
“Not all the cases had exposure to the city of Flint water,” says Nick Lyon, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, “That said, the department is treating the situation with the same urgency and transparency as the lead response in Flint.”
[Photo by Al Goldis/AP]