Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What's missing from Michigan Gov. Snyder's Flint water disaster timeline

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State speech yesterday was understandably focused on the Flint water crisis, which has seen thousands exposed to dangerous amounts of lead in drinking water. In the speech, Snyder accepted responsibility for the disaster management in Flint. And in a nod to transparency, he released state emails regarding the fiasco and published a timeline of the crisis—a timeline which seemingly spread the blame around.

This came just one day after Snyder called the crisis his “Katrina,” and appealed a federal decision to deny a disaster zone designation in Flint because of the man-made nature of the crisis.

However, Snyder’s timeline still omits some key facts about the crisis— which conveniently make his office and administration look better. Here’s what he left out:

  1. April 2011: Reports of partially treated sewage leaking into the Flint River. This is one of many times sewage—sometimes treated and sometimes raw—entered the Flint River.
  2. September 2011: A city-funded report seeking affordable drinking water options in Flint found that the Flint Water Treatment facility, which had served the city until 1960 before the automative industry ruined the river, would require at least $60 million in upgrades to be able to treat the water properly for use as a primary source.
  3. December 2011: Gov. Snyder appoints Michael Brown as first emergency manager of Flint during city’s financial crisis. Emergency managers have the power to bypass local leadership and act unilaterally and are extensions of state executive power, as opposed to local elected authority.
  4. August 2012: Michael Brown replaced as emergency manager by Ed Kurtz. Kurtz, the Flint City Council, and then-mayor Dayne Walling decide on a course of action for water.
  5. March 2013: State treasury and Department of Environmental Quality officials shoot down external reports indicating that the switch from purchasing water from Detroit to the new Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) would not actually save money.
  6. June 2013: Despite the easiest and safest option being remaining with Detroit’s water system until the KWA is built, emergency manager Kurtz makes the decision to move to the Flint River and the Flint Water Treatment facility.
  7. August 2014: Flint River water violates National Primary Drinking Water Regulations twice.
  8. September 2014: Flint River water violates NPDWR again.
  9. December 2014: Flint River water violates NPDWR again.
  10. September 2015: Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, releases data from patients indicating a lead poisoning crisis. Gov. Snyder’s spokesperson calls the data “spliced and diced” and several state departments attempt to discredit the work, despite the fact that Michigan data corroborated Hanna-Attisha’s.
  11. September 2015: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claims that spike in illnesses from lead is "seasonal and not related to the water supply."

Snyder’s timeline paints the crisis as a local issue aided and abetted by the Department of Environmental Quality and overlooked by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but the truth is that the state and the state executive branch played a critical part here. And even though the governor’s office expressed concerns about the water—concerns which Snyder himself knew about—the response was still lackadaisical and incomplete. That is, until the evidence in the form of people poisoned—and the national outrage—were undeniable.

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