DETROIT – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint over problems with lead in the city’s drinking water, the same day federal officials confirmed they’re investigating the matter that prompted a local public health emergency.
Snyder’s action on Tuesday follows emergency declarations declared by the city and Genesee County, which requested help from the state. Michigan’s declaration makes available state resources in co-operation with local response and recovery operations.
U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman Gina Balaya said in an email that the federal investigation is “an effort to address the concerns of Flint residents,” but she couldn’t say whether it is a criminal or civil investigation.
The city switched from Detroit’s water system to Flint 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.
Residents complained about the water’s taste, smell and appearance, and children were found to have elevated levels of lead due to the water supply. Exposure to lead can cause behaviour problems and learning disabilities in children.
The city returned to Detroit water in October.
Last week, Snyder apologized and Michigan’s top environmental regulator resigned after a task force created by Snyder blamed problems on his agency. Administration officials have pledged to co-operate fully with any federal requests.
The state initially downplayed lead concerns but ultimately had to commit $10.6 million to reconnect Flint to Detroit and to respond with filters, testing and other services.
The city’s request for a disaster declaration includes roughly $50 million in aid, most of which is taken up by $45 million to replace 15,000 lead service lines — “one of the most cost-intensive endeavours related to ameliorating water contaminants” in its system, according to the application. It also seeks $2 million in reimbursement costs for reconnecting to Detroit’s system.