June 15, 2017; Washington Post
Since a state of emergency was declared in Flint, Michigan, justice has seemingly been denied those affected by the water crisis. However, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is determined to hold those entities responsible for the tragedies that have befallen Flint to account.
Beginning in January of 2016, Schuette’s office has investigated “what, if any, Michigan laws were violated in the process that resulted in the contamination crisis currently forcing Flint residents to rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking, and bathing as they fear for their health.” The attorney general’s office has already filed more than 50 criminal charges against more than a dozen state workers for crimes such as obstruction of justice, lying to officers, and willful neglect surrounding lead contamination in Flint’s water.
Five new involuntary manslaughter charges were brought against high-ranking state and city officials this week in connection with 12 deaths from a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. Corrosive Flint water leached lead and iron into the metal pipes, and the iron had the additional effect of counteracting the disinfectant in the water. This combination of high iron and reduced disinfectant created an environment in which the Legionella pneumophila bacterium could thrive.
A review of emails by the attorney general’s office shows that state officials knew about the Legionnaires’ outbreak caused by the water for at least one year before going public with the information. Genesee County Health director Jim Henry suspected Flint water as the source of the Legionnaires’ outbreak but was unable to receive support from the state to investigate. Henry claims that state officials purposefully kept the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from looking into the water: “Frustration is an understatement. You could see that it was an intentional, deliberate method to prevent us from doing our job.”
Perhaps the most incriminating evidence that has been released comes in the form of emails from Michigan Director of Health and Human Services Nick Lyon with such phrases as, “Everyone has to die of something.” During this time, a dozen people died and close to one hundred fell ill. Lyon was charged with involuntary manslaughter this week; he’s the highest ranking official to date to be charged in connection with the Flint water crisis.
NPQ has provided extensive coverage of the tragic course of events in Flint—new outbreaks, failed public health measures, lessons learned, and community support. After years of struggle, it is time for Michigan state officials to take responsibility for the heinous crimes committed against the people of Flint. Although these charges will provide little consolation to those who continue to suffer because of governmental neglect, Schuette’s actions thus far do make a statement. He says, “That arrogance that people would want to sweep this away and that there are nameless, faceless bureaucrats who caused this and no one responsible is outrageous.”
In response to the charges, Flint resident Keri Webber, whose daughter continues to experience respiratory problems after contracting Legionnaires’ disease, sums it up best, “This is not a win for the people; however it is a beginning, maybe, for some justice.”—Sheela Nimishakavi