DEQ Employees Seem Unwilling to Take the Fall for Flint

During yesterday’s Congressional hearing — and really, since the Governor’s hand-picked Task Force first gave him an interim report in December — employees from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality have come in for most of the blame for poisoning Flint.

But today, Progress Michigan published some emails that suggest DEQ’s employees are unwilling to take the fall, at least not by themselves. They show that in March of last year, a supervisor in Gennesee County’s health department wrote people in Flint and at DEQ asking for help with data on water quality after getting no response to a FOIA in January 2015.

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In the email, the supervisor noted that a spike in Legionnaires coincided with the switch to Flint’s water. Jerry Ambrose was then the Emergency Manager of Flint; it’s unclear why he was using a GMail address as EM.

In the next few days, officials at DEQ exchanged some panicked emails, pretty much blaming Flint for the non-response, noting that DEQ “became peripherally aware” of the spike in Legionnaires, but also bitching about the Genesee County supervisor suggesting that it might be tied to the switch to Flint river water.

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It appears that panicked email was printed out by then DEQ Director Dan Wyant’s assistant, Mary Beth Thelen, then initialed by Wyant, presumably indicating he had read it.

Also included on that email, though, was Harvey Hollins.

As I noted here, in December, in response to a recommendation from Governor Snyder’s hand-picked Flint Task Force, the governor picked Hollins to be the single “independent” person overseeing response to the Flint crisis. It was absurd to pick him in the first place, because (as this shows) Hollins had been personally involved all along. But he is, at least on paper, in charge of response.

In other words, the email chain shows that both Snyder’s hand-picked EM and the guy in charge of liaising with Flint knew, over a year ago, that Legionnaires (which has since killed at least 9 people) might be tied to the water switchover.

Progress Michigan doesn’t note how they came by this email. But it’s pretty clear it was Wyant’s personal copy of it. In December — in response to another suggestion by the Task Force — Snyder had Wyant resign. Since then, Attorney General Bill Schuette pointed to Wyant’s resignation (which he originally expressed sadness about) to justify opening up his own investigation into the crisis.

All of which suggests to me that Wyant is unwilling to be the sole scapegoat for this crisis.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

16 replies
  1. harpie says:

    Ooooh! Now this is starting to get interesting.

    I was surprised that some entities who could [should?] have dot gov emails, have dot com addresses instead…looks like the whole City of Flint…also, the office of the Genesee County Drain Commissioner [Jeff Wright] is http://www.gcdcwws.com/

    Wright is called “CEO” when he’s wearing his KWA hat.
    [See these interesting meeting notes from 9/19/12 at http://media.wix.com/ugd/60e74e_174b3ada863e714991719a381f3c4a27.pdf%5D

    Have you seen the Time Line which was posted by people at The Bridge Magazine today:?
    http://bridgemi.com/2016/02/flint-water-disaster-timeline/

  2. wayoutwest says:

    The really interesting emails that may be exposed eventually are the ones that explain who and why someone made the decision to leave out the anti- corrosion compound that was known to be required for this water to be safe to use. This was the decision that turned a useful economic choice into a crisis.

    At HP today there was a report of a three year old who’s blood level of lead was supposedly in the poisoning range, although no numbers were cited, showing possible symptoms of the poisoning, seizures. There will probably be more actual poisoning victims reported but thankfully they will be few and most of Flint’s residents weren’t even exposed to elevated levels of lead.

    With all the money being thrown away on investigations, the growing lawsuits and overpriced Detroit water I hope there will be some attempt and funds to help people replace the lead piping that was exposing many people in Flint to elevated lead levels before the water source was changed.

  3. Phil Perspective says:

    Jerry Ambrose was then the Emergency Manager of Flint; it’s unclear why he was using a GMail address as EM.

    I think we all know the answer to that question!! He’s got something to hide!!

    • wayoutwest says:

      Jerry Ambrose was the EM in Flint for only a few months replacing Darnell Earley who was EM from 2013 to 2015. Earley, a Democrat refused to attend the hearings in DC to answer questions about his involvement but has stated he knew ‘nothing’ and that the decision to switch water was made long before he was EM.

  4. Rayne says:

    wayoutwest (10:26) — This bit here:

    …There will probably be more actual poisoning victims reported but thankfully they will be few and most of Flint’s residents weren’t even exposed to elevated levels of lead. …

    STOP.

    That’s one of the most egregious things I have read about #FlintWaterCrisis. My kid goes to school in Flint, is on an allegedly newer leg of pipe, and she still had unusual and frequent health problems during the time Flint’s water was coming from the river and even after the switch back to DWSD. Was she an *actually poisoned* by lead? Did she have Legionella or some other infectious agent? WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE SHE WASN’T TOLD BY FLINT’S EM/MDEQ/EPA TO GET TESTED. Did the rest of the city experience similar problems? WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE THE FLINT’S EM/MDEQ/EPA HAVEN’T TESTED THE ENTIRE POPULATION WHO USED FLINT’S WATER. Will she, or any children she may bear, have any future health problems as a result of exposure to Flint’s water? WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE SHE HASN’T BEEN TOLD BY FLINT’S EM/MDEQ/EPA WHAT THE RISKS ARE.

    Unless you’re an urban water system expert working in Flint, spare us your uneducated guess about the number of *actually poisoned* in Flint. You simply do NOT have enough information to swag. Uninformed guesses come off like propaganda, and the city of Flint has had more than its share of bullshit over the last two decades.

    Jesus fucking Christ, way to start my morning. *Actually poisoned.* Fuck that. Every person who drank Flint river water was poisoned to one degree or another. Most were simply lucky not to need hospitalization.

    • wayoutwest says:

      Hysteria is contagious and twitter is a vector for its spread especially with morons such as Mike Moore using this crisis for political games and inciting people to revolt. The local so called experts and the EPA are less than trustworthy but no one with any expertise including the ones from Virginia Tech are claiming that the Flint water supply was poisoned only that it wasn’t treated properly for corrosion. The rust and clouding of the water is the most common complaint of Detroit water users but isn’t a health risk.

      No one should be exposed to elevated lead levels in their water and the people who are responsible for the actual poisoning of children are criminals. I’m just as anxious as others to learn who made the decision to not treat Flint’s water for corrosion, they are the criminals and may also be responsible for the Legionella outbreaks if the connection is proven.

      Creating paranoia, based on misinformation and outright lies, among the residents of Flint who weren’t poisoned or even exposed to lead should also be a crime especially if they are public figures with a political agenda.

      If you chose hysteria over reason your thinking will be as clouded as Flint’s water but the hysteria seems to be spreading fueled by the media.

      I’ve been watching for reports of what the CDC experts describe as lead poisoning blood levels in Flint and I don’t guess about anything but that there will be more reported besides the few examples reported so far.

      If you can show that I’m uninformed based on something other than twitter or some blowhard’s ranting I’ll shut up!

  5. Rayne says:

    wayoutwest (11:26) — You have no fucking clue what you are talking about, from Michael Moore’s personal background, to what’s really going on in Flint. Moore is completely relevant on the topic of Flint because he was born and raised there, still knows quite well what is going on in Flint. Every one of his 10 facts about Flint is spot-the-fuck-on.

    It’s not paranoia when more than 100K people have been exposed to E coli, Legionella, trihalomethanes, chlorides, lead, and other contaminants, when the city/state/federal governments are unprepared/unable/unwilling to respond, in spite of a declared state of emergency during which the residents, workers, and guests of Flint must rely on charitable donations of bottled water to drink and contaminated water for everything else.

    And when you swag around “oh the CDC” bullshit, just stop. The entire city hasn’t been tested for exposure, nor have all business and home piping been tested. Only a limited percentage have been tested for exposure so far, and if it hadn’t been for Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards — neither of which are with the CDC — there’d be very little testing underway right now. Don’t tell me about places which have tested “safe,” either, because many tests have been manipulated, most often with flushing before samples are taken.

    I’m telling you as a Michigander who lives near Flint, who’s drunk the city’s water, who has family living in the city and in suburbs immediately next to Flint, you are completely off base. Here forward I’m ignoring anything you have to say on the subject of Flint’s water crisis.

    As one of my friends put it, *actually poisoned* is like *legitimately raped*. You should have stopped right there.

  6. harpie says:

    This is a shout out to Jim White! [I’m not sure just why I haven’t signed up for Twitter, yet.] Anyway, have you looked at the Flint water treatment documents posted here:?

    http://www.michigan.gov/flintwater/0,6092,7-345-73954_75358—,00.html

    I’ve been looking at the “Monthly Operation Report of Water Treatment Plant-2014” [because that’s when the switch of water supply and the related changes in water treatment protocols took place].

    A couple of things: The reports for each month have a cover sheet…except April, the month the source switch was made.

    The report for April also has no figures in the “Total millions gallons purchased” column, even though the actual source switch didn’t happen [we are told] until the middle of the month;

    also, a note at the end of the May report states: “Plant operations were shut down on 5/12 until 5/14. This was done to drain a softening clarifier and change plant set-up to test a new polymer. Storage reservoirs were utilized during this time.”

    That was a couple of weeks before the spike in Legionnaires cases you wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

    • Jim White says:

      .
      Hi Harpie, good to see you again!
      .
      I haven’t gone through those docs yet, but Marcy and Rayne have both been all over the Flint story, too. I’ll try to give those a look soon.

  7. bevin says:

    “morons such as Mike Moore using this crisis for political games and inciting people to revolt…”

    If what has been inflicted upon Flint does not call for political action I am unsure what would do. Certainly the importation of East India Company tea would not qualify.
    People in Flint and across Michigan ought to revolt. Under no circumstances should water sources in the condition in which the Flint river is, be used for municipal supplies.

    The real and abiding problem in Flint is that, underneath all this media coverage, a very large proportion of Flint’s residents have little information on what they can and should do. This is why Moore is right: they should make a fuss, march, demonstrate and if necessary riot.

    Flint is not only a perfect example of capital’s failures and corporate irresponsibility but of the sordid nature of business unionism. Flint today is a monument to the political ineffectiveness of the UAW and the CIO which for decades allowed Democratic bosses to run the city into the ground, acting decisively only to suppress any outbreaks of popular political activity.

    • wayoutwest says:

      B, I agree with much of what you write but the city of Flint used the Flint River water for 50 years and it remained their backup source, Except for its high chloride content it isn’t much different from Detroit River water and Lake Huron is not much better.

      A few days ago Mike Moore was telling concerned caring citizens to ‘Stop’ sending clean water to Flint and sign some worthless petition as a solution. It was obvious he was cracking up before this crazy outburst and luckily for everyone, especially for the already stressed and confused children and adults in Flint he was terrifying with his misinformation and lies, he is getting medical care and hopefully will get some help or better meds.

      The Capitalist with the help of the unions you mentioned have been very successful in places like Flint extracting all the profit they could and then moving on to greener pastures. Demonstrating or rioting will do nothing to change any of todays realities even if it relieves some pent up anger and frustration. The good jobs are gone and the workers who need them are surplus and will remain unneeded, on their own, in this Darwinian dystopia.

  8. harpie says:

    Wurfel: “Essentially, Jim Henry with Genesee County Health is putting up the flare. He’s made the leap formally in his email that the uptick in cases is directly attributable to the river as a drinking water source”

    No. What he SAID was that the uptick may correlate [not “is directly attributable”] to the switch [not “the river”] from one source to the other:

    Henry: “Legionella can be a deadly, waterborne disease that typically affects the respiratory system. The increase of the illnesses closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to Flint River water.”

  9. MelK says:

    Rayne: “Was she an *actually poisoned* by lead? Did she have Legionella or some other infectious agent? WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE SHE WASN’T TOLD BY FLINT’S EM/MDEQ/EPA TO GET TESTED. ”

    I rather expect that the child’s parents and doctor should be taking the lead in deciding what tests to undertake, to determine what causes the child’s illness. Sure, the DEQ or EPA could suggest possible contaminants, but the parents are the ones with direct access to both the child and the child’s environment … and have the necessary permissions to have such tests conducted. Lead poisoning isn’t something that will clear up in a few weeks; those tests can (and given your concern, should) still be conducted.

    “We don’t know because [third party] didn’t [do some action]” isn’t really a strong argument.

    Don’t know who to talk to, what tests to have conducted? Well, you do have access to the internet. And your doctor.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    And why would Flint’s water be the only one affected by this apparent gross negligence (or intentional misconduct) by Michigan’s top politicians?

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