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Flint water crisis could result in manslaughter charge

  • Flint resident Sarah Truesdail held her daughter Gabriella Venegas, 5, as she screamed out with tears rolling down her face while a health official pricked her finger with a needle for a free lead test on Monday at Carriage Town Ministries in Flint. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

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.

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  • Out of control anti-government Republicans ought to think twice about using austerity to harm at risk families. The Republican governor in this satte ought to resign along with all those who perpetuated this harm on the public in Flint.

    • How is it the governor’s fault when this is managed by the city? The mayor was in office before the governor was elected. Party affiliation has nothing to do with this. This is the result of stupid people that are in managerial positions that should have never been in the position to begin with. It should be a no brainer that anything dealing with life/health/safety issues gets top priority in the budget unlike our state where a useless rail is put above everything else.

      • The governor used his powers to appoint “emergency managers”. These managers have the power to implement any measures they seem fit to. They made the decision to use the Flint water while they were trying to build another pipeline.
        I believe there were lots of e-mails warning of the toxic quality of the water from the people in charge. I believe some residents took bottles of water that was coming out of their faucets to the water department. I believe the managers assured the people that the water was safe. I believe a resident of Flint spent her own money to get the water tested at a university and forwarded the test results to the managers who chose to ignore the situation.
        Only after national news media shed light on and gave attention to the plight did the governor and his appointed emergency managers try to divert responsibility. I seems that by some of the comments on this page, they were successful.
        btw…the governor is a republican. If this was a democratic governor, I believe the furor would be the same.
        This has to do with government not taking the health and safety of the people into consideration. They chose to try and “save money” by going to another water system. Makes on wonder, what did they do with the money they saved?

    • Actually the governor should be impeached and sent to Gitmo. Not likely to happen but this just shows that voting republican can be deadly and should be avoided. Shame today’s republicans have no values.

    • How is it the governor’s fault when this is managed by the city? The mayor was in office before the governor was elected. Party affiliation has nothing to do with this. This is the result of stupid people that are in managerial positions that should have never been in the position to begin with. It should be a no brainer that anything dealing with life/health/safety issues gets top priority in the budget unlike our state where a useless rail is put above everything else.

      • He appointed “emergency managers” who had the power to overrule the mayor and his cabinet. They were responsible for the water project to build new pipelines.
        In short, the mayor did not have any say or power to do anything.

    • In other more alert countries the people use lead tests and would have known long ago that there is a problem and fixed it. Since centuries it is known that those pipes are bad for you.

  • Manslaughter charges are at the low end of the scale of charges that could be brought against those responsible. It has to be acknowledged that the tragic poisoning of an entire city is unlikely to have happened in Grosse Pointe or other majority white cities in Michigan. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide establishes genocide as an international crime, which signatory nations undertake to prevent and punish. It defines genocide as including, along with killing members of a group, the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group or deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

  • Flint = DEMOCRATS GONE WILD!!!! Run by (D), controlled by (D) and destroyed by (D) …. Proof positive that Democrats are mentally ill and incapable of rational decisions!!!

  • The politicization of this issue only guarantees that people will be starved of facts, and if confronted by them will choose to ignore them. It doesn’t matter whether Flint drew their water from the river or the lake, proper treatment could have prevented lead leaching into the system. Those decisions were made by technicians trained and licensed by the State, not by elected officials. There may be plenty of blame to pin on the elected class when we find out who knew what when and how they dealt with the information. Calling for impeachment and other such nonsense before the facts are known shows all the intellectual rigor of a Duke faculty member analyzing the lacrosse tam.

    • The possibility of manslaughter charges has nothing to do with the source of the water. It has nothing to do with technicians. The charges will be based on revelations that the Governor did not learn of the deadly outbreak of Legionnaires disease only a few days before his January 13 announcement; his emails reveal that he knew about the outbreak last March and did NOTHING. People died because he and his administration concealed the existence of this life threatening outbreak.

      • On January 13, Gov. Snyder said that he learned of the spike in Legionairres disease a couple of days before. Emails prove that he actually knew about it 9 months earlier. People were dying and he did NOTHING and then more people died. It has nothing to do with technicians and managers.

        • You are entitled to your opinion and I would like to thank you for reinforcing my point with your political diatribe. Have you ever run a water system? I have.

    • The elected officials knew in March 2015 that there was a surge in cases of Legionnaires disease — a potentially fatal disease. It doesn’t require technicians trained and licensed by the state to know that people are dying. It doesn’t require expertise in running a water system. Doctors and hospitals knew people were dying. The health department knew. And the governor’s emails prove that he knew it 9 months before he publicly claimed, on January 13, that he “just learned about it a few days ago.” Those are facts, not “politicization of this issue,” and those facts suggest criminal negligence.

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