Michigan official: Federal water rules not followed in Flint

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Posted: Oct 19, 2015 8:17 PM
Michigan official: Federal water rules not followed in Flint

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Federal rules governing drinking water weren't followed properly in Flint, the cash-strapped Michigan city where problems with lead prompted officials to declare a public health emergency, according to the state's top environmental official.

Acknowledging that mistakes were made by the state, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant said Sunday that "necessary changes" were being made. Officials long maintained that the water met safety standards, but the state recently corroborated findings of elevated lead levels in children and disclosed higher lead amounts in three Flint schools.

"Our actions reflected inexperience, and our public response to criticism was the wrong tone early in this conversation," Wyant said. "But the best we can do with the situation going forward is represented in our present course. We will learn from this."

A state official responsible for the safety of drinking water has been reassigned as officials await the outcome of an independent review of the state's role in Flint's water problems, The Detroit News and Michigan Radio reported. In a statement Monday, Wyant said he appointed an interim chief of the department's Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance.

Flint reconnected to Detroit's water system on Friday in hopes of resolving the health emergency spurred by a switch to river water. The change was aimed at saving money, but it left children with elevated lead levels.

The city was assured by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that the switch to Flint River water was "being handled safely and responsibly," Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said Monday in a statement.

"While the state taking responsibility and the switch to Detroit water are steps in the right direction for Flint, actions speak louder than words," Walling said. "Now, the governor and the state need to provide tens of millions of dollars to fix Flint's water and infrastructure as well as to provide for the families, children and schools affected."

Last week, Gov. Rick Snyder approved millions toward the $12 million that returning to Detroit's system will cost through June.

"We are now embarked on an unprecedented effort to safeguard Flint residents and families with near-term, intermediate and long-term actions to protect and educate city residents," Wyant said Monday.

Flint, a city of about 99,000 people, stopped getting its water from Detroit's system last year in a cost-cutting move. The Flint River was supposed to be an interim source until the city could join a new system getting water from Lake Huron that's scheduled to be completed next year.

But the Flint River is more corrosive than Detroit's water from Lake Huron, and because proper controls were not implemented, the river water picked up lead from aging pipes that connect water mains to houses and businesses. If consumed, lead can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities.

On Sunday, Wyant said staffers applied standards of the federal Lead and Copper Rule that were designed to govern testing and monitoring for communities with populations below 50,000 residents. Flint's larger population triggers a different set of criteria to determine proper corrosion controls.

"None of the DEQ staff in this division had ever worked on a water source switch for a community of over 50,000 people," he said Sunday. "It's increasingly clear there was confusion here, but it also is increasingly clear that DEQ staff believed they were using the proper federal protocol and they were not."