LANSING, Mich. » Flint’s water crisis, after a switch in the drinking water source allowed dangerous levels of lead and potentially caused deadly cases of Legionnaires’ disease, could result in criminal charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter, a top investigator said today.
Todd Flood, who was appointed as special counsel by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette last month, told reporters that manslaughter charges could be on the table if government officials were grossly negligent in their handling of the city’s water switch and the aftermath.
“It’s not far-fetched,” Flood said, pointing to past charges against people for deaths on construction sites. He also reiterated the possibility of charges for official misconduct.
Flint is under a state of emergency because of lead-tainted water. Outside experts also have suggested a link between the Flint River and a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. There were at least 87 cases across Genesee County during a 17-month period, including nine deaths.
The city’s water supply was switched from the Detroit system to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure in 2014, when Flint was under state-appointed emergency management. It was an interim measure while a new pipeline to Lake Huron is being built. But the improperly treated river water caused lead to leach from old pipes.
If consumed, lead can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities. Flint has since switched back to the Detroit water system. Gov. Rick Snyder, under fire for his administration’s role in the emergency, has accepted responsibility while also blaming state and federal environmental regulators.
Flint’s mayor said today that a plan to remove and replace all lead water pipes in city homes will cost $55 million. Mayor Karen Weaver said households where residents are deemed to be high-risk will be given priority.
“We’re going to restore safe drinking water one house at a time, one child at a time,” she said. “All lead pipes need to be replaced. We deserve new pipes because we did not deserve what happened.”
No funding has been dedicated to pay for the work, with Weaver calling for the state and federal governments for financial help. Weaver also said the “Fast Start” plan requires coordination between city, state and federal officials.
“I invite Gov. Snyder and his team to pledge their full cooperation to help us get this done,” Weaver said. “And I call on the Legislature and Congress to appropriate the necessary funds so we can get started as soon as possible. The people of Flint have already paid with their lives, health and quality of life.”
The work would be similar to ongoing lead pipe removal in Lansing. The Lansing Board of Water & Light has removed 13,500 lead pipes over a dozen years at a cost of $42 million.
Technical experts with the utility met Monday with Flint officials. Up to 15,000 lead pipes could be removed within one year in Flint under the best of conditions by dozens of work crews. Officials have not determined a date for the work to start.
In terms of state aid, Flint’s city administrator had said Monday that the state’s $30 million pledge to help pay water bills isn’t enough to counteract the effect of the crisis on city finances, according to The Flint Journal. The proposal passed last week by the state Senate would keep Flint’s water fund financially solvent only until year’s end, which could force water service shutoffs to resume, Natasha Henderson told city council members. She said at least $60 million is needed.
Officials with General Motors and the United Auto Workers union said today they plan to donate $3 million to support health and education services for Flint children who have been exposed to lead. The five-year commitment will address “immediate, ongoing and growing needs,” the United Way of Genesee County said.