Michigan governor pledges contact with every Flint household

AP News
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Posted: Jan 12, 2016 1:01 AM
Michigan governor pledges contact with every Flint household

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — An apologetic Gov. Rick Snyder pledged Monday that officials would make contact with every household in Flint to check whether residents have bottled water and a filter and want to be tested for lead exposure while his embattled administration works on a long-term solution to the city's water crisis.

He also said he first clearly knew of Flint's lead problem around Oct. 1, when state health authorities confirmed elevated blood-lead levels in children that were detected by a local doctor. Exposure to lead can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in children.

"This is a crisis. So we're responding appropriately. There's more work to be done," Snyder said during a news conference with state and local officials in Flint.

It was the Michigan Republican's first visit to the 99,000-resident city since October, when he called for a switch back to Detroit's water after more corrosive Flint River water leached lead from 15,000 service lines and into homes. Snyder said he may ask state lawmakers for additional money for the emergency before his budget proposal in February.

Flint switched from Detroit's water system to river water in a cost-cutting move in 2014, while under state financial management. That was intended as a temporary step while a pipeline was built from Lake Huron. The city returned to Detroit's Lake Huron water in October after various problems, but officials remain concerned about the corrosion caused by the Flint River water. Extra anti-corrosion controls began last month.

"We don't want people to assume anything's good until we have a chance to do extensive testing and confirm that publicly," Snyder said.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Interim Director Keith Creagh gave no timeline for when the tap water would be OK to drink, saying additional testing is needed.

The state auditor general and a task force created by Snyder have faulted the Department of Environmental Quality for not requiring Flint to treat the river water for corrosion and belittling the public's fears. Former DEQ Director Dan Wyant resigned last month.

Last week, a professor who has investigated the Flint situation posted online an email obtained through a public records request that shows Snyder's chief of staff expressing concerns in July to Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon that Flint residents were "basically getting blown off." Snyder said Monday he wanted to "push on (state) departments" after hearing concerns from the community, and the agencies "reaffirmed they didn't believe there was an issue. That was not the correct outcome it turns out, in retrospect."

He said he is responsible for what goes on in state government.

Since October, more than 12,000 filters have been distributed, more than 2,000 blood tests have been done — uncovering 43 cases of elevated lead levels — and more than 700 water tests have been conducted, Snyder said.

"Those actions were not good enough. We've worked hard, but we need to get more connection to the citizens of Flint," Snyder said.

Also Monday, he issued an executive order creating a committee to work long term on resolving the crisis and health concerns. The 17 members will serve initial terms through 2018.

Last week, Snyder declared an emergency after Flint and Genesee County requested financial assistance. The state — which previously committed $10.6 million to reconnect Flint to Detroit and to respond with filters other services after initially downplaying the lead risk — could soon ask for federal help.

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Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert