Flint Water Crisis: Officials May Face Charges After Emails Reveal Negligence

Regulators of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, are being exposed by the state. In the midst of the ongoing investigation into the Flint water scandal, the state of Michigan has publicly released a series of emails between regulators that proves officials were informed about the presence of lead in Flint’s water supply and ignored the information for more than six months. Based on the discovery of these emails and additional information unveiled through federal investigation, Flint regulators may face criminal charges.

The investigation now consists of over 24,000 pages of information, but the federal government is not solely responsible for the evidence discovery. In fact, most of the information obtained about the Flint water crisis has been from grassroots advocacy instead of government action. In the case of the emails, the suspicious conversations between Flint water regulators were added to the investigation after Progress Michigan, an advocacy group, issued a public-records request for Flint, according to the New York Times. What became most apparent once the emails were released was that many of the informers about Flint water quality were Flint residents, not officials. With the entire country wondering how long this has been happening and just when did the water run brown, the emails have finally brought answers.

The Flint River [Image via Bloomberg/Getty Images]

What is now clear is that Flint’s water supply has been harmful to residents for almost two years. Immediately after the water supply to Flint, Michigan, was changed to water from the Flint River, residents began to notice a foul smell coming from their taps. Originally, it was stated that officials knew nothing about Flint’s water quality, but the email discovery proves otherwise. The water quality in Flint after the city switched to river water to cut costs was overlooked by the state emergency manager, Darnell Earley, and the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder. In light of the ongoing crisis, which has the health of Flint residents in jeopardy, a representative of the Michigan governor has spoken out in his defense.

“He took action promptly and released the information publicly.”

With the emails as a main source of evidence, the regulators of the Flint water supply face charges for many reasons. First, America has approximately 8,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease each year. Last year, 35 percent of the country’s Legionnaires’ disease cases were from residents of Flint, Michigan. Since the water crisis began, nine people have been reported dead as a result of the Legionnaires’ disease contracted from the lead-contaminated water. The emails prove negligence, because despite knowledge of the lead water pipes, some officials emailed that the water was still safe to drink.

On September 30, 2015, DEQ field operations section chief Richard Benzie wrote, “If you receive one of these calls, our message should be consistent — the drinking water distributed to city customers currently meets all drinking water standards and is considered safe.”

FLINT, MI: Dispensing bottled water for victims of Flint Water Crisis [Image via Sarah Rice/Getty Images]

There is no safe level of lead for humans to consume, according to the CDC. Therefore, the September 30 email from Benzie shows negligence and makes him vulnerable to criminal charges. However, Richard Benzie is not alone. In March of 2015, every official was copied in an email from Environmental Health Supervisor Jim Henry, who attached a report on the unsafe bacterial and chemical makeup in the Flint water supply. Henry’s emails came months after the original report email from the Genesee County Health Department. Now that those involved are under siege, everyone is trying to plead their case, the most important defense to date, is that of Governor Snyder himself, who has asked to testify before Congress.

In response to Snyder’s request, U.S. Representative, Jason Chaffetz is inviting of the testimony. Here’s what the rep. had to say.

“We are committed to investigating the failures in Flint. We appreciate Gov. Snyder’s willingness to appear and look forward to hearing from EPA Administrator McCarthy as well. Their perspectives on this issue are important as we seek to ensure a crisis of this magnitude never occurs in another American city.”

[Photo by Brett Carlsen/Stringer/Getty Images]