Hearing Shows Flint Emergency Manager Had Ample Notice of Lead Crisis and Federal Officials Deferred to State Officials Despite Severity of Lead Contamination
WASHINGTON, DC – (RealEstateRama) — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today at the second Oversight and Government Reform Committee (OGR) hearing examining the Flint lead-in-water crisis said that local, state, and federal officials failed to act on early warning signs, not unlike what happened with the District of Columbia’s lead-in-water crisis during the early 2000s.
“I wanted no part in the finger pointing between state and federal officials about who bears the most responsibility for this shameful crisis,” Norton said. “During the hearing, I pointed to a recently-passed House bill that would for the first time require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to notify residents when water samples show lead levels for the highest 10% of homes tested are above 15 parts per billion, if local agencies do not notify residents. That bill was necessary because in our separation of powers government, federal officials are virtually required to refrain from addressing a matter controlled by the state, even when there is federal jurisdiction. It is clear here that water quality control was entirely in the hands of state and local officials in Michigan. However, in the case of lead contamination, the federal government should have done much more as local officials failed to intervene.”
Following the hearing, Norton released a response to her letter requesting an update from the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) on the status of lead levels in D.C.’s water supply. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was chiefly responsible for D.C.’s lead-in-water crisis during the early 2000s because they failed to add the correct anti-corrosive substance to D.C.’s water, which caused lead to leach from pipes into the water. DC Water CEO George Hawkins said that DC Water tests at the tap year round, monitors lead in the water extracted from the Potomac River, offers free lead testing to its customers, replaces lead service pipes, and conducts proactive outreach to educate D.C. residents on ways they can remove sources of lead on their property. Hawkins wrote that “DC Water collects samples from at least 100 single family homes every six months that have a partial or full lead service line.” Norton said this type of proactive testing, monitoring and community outreach should have been employed in Flint and might have prevented the crisis.
At the OGR hearing, Norton told Darnell Earley, who was the Emergency Manager of Flint at the time of the crisis, that Flint residents, not government officials, blew the whistle on the water crisis. Norton said it was Flint residents who reported changes to the water’s color and odor that were visible to the naked eye of anyone concerned, and complained of rashes and hair loss. Norton said Earley and other officials failed to take citizens’ reports as a sign that there was a problem with the water. Norton asked Earley why complaints about the water’s odor and color did not alert him that there were serious problems. Earley responded that he depended on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which had determined the color and odor changes did not have an impact on human consumption. But Norton pointed out that Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Sue McCormick offered to continue supplying water to Flint until the Karegnondi Water Authority’s project was complete, and, furthermore, one of Flint’s own officials said after looking at one of the monitoring levels, “if any water is distributed from this plant in the next couple of weeks, it will be against my direction.”