#FlintWaterCrisis: I Don’t Think That Report Said What You Think It Said, Gov

Today’s House Oversight Committee hearing into the Flint Water Crisis was a joke. It was partisan — more so than the previous two hearings — because Republicans finally clued in that a Republican state governor’s crisis doesn’t make them look good if they don’t kick up a stink and draw fire away from their role in the mess.

And yes, Congress’ GOP members are directly responsible for what happened in Flint, because they are also responsible for neutering the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress is the one entity which failed to take any responsibility for what happened in Flint — and what happened in Flint had already happened in Washington DC. Congress ensured that the EPA would be subordinate to the states, relying on states to act with inadequate recourse to step in and intervene. See Primacy Enforcement Responsibility for Public Water Systems (pdf) and note the obligations the states have to ensure safe drinking water under these laws:

  • Safe Drinking Water Act, 1974, as amended in 1986 and 1996
  • Primacy Regulations 40 CFR Part 142, Subpart B, 1976, as amended in 1986
  • Revisions to Primacy Requirements (1998), 63 FR 23362 codified at 40 CFR Part 142

These are Congress’ purview; as part of the Executive Branch, the EPA does not make law. Only Congress does.

Equally annoying today is the tendency by the Republican representatives to go easy on Michigan’s Governor Snyder, who tried to make it sound like he was doing everything he could to fix Flint and be open and transparent. You know this is bull hockey if you’ve looked at batches of emails released to date.

You know it’s also nonsense if you look at documents produced by the Snyder administration, intended to assist the public with understanding what happened.

One example is a timeline of the Flint water crisis laid out in a two-page presentation, with bubbles containing descriptions of events. A bubble marking March 12, 2015, appears in the upper right of the first page, denoting the submission of a report by Veolia Water. The firm had been hired by Flint’s emergency manager as water quality consultant to review and evaluate the water treatment process and distribution system.

Veolia completed and submitted their report to the city on March 12, but the report does not actually say what the state’s timeline document says. Veolia wrote,

“Although a review of water quality records for the time period under our study indicates compliance with State and Federal water quality regulations, Veolia, as an operator and manager of comparable utilities, recommends a variety of actions to address improvements in water quality and related aesthetics including: operational changes and improvements; changes in water treatment processes, procedures and chemical dosing; adjustments in how current technologies are being used; increased maintenance and capital program activities; increased training; and, an enhanced customer communications program.”

Veolia relied on what previous water quality records said; they did not actually conduct tests themselves, or audit how the previous records and reports were prepared.

But the timeline published by the governor’s office reads,

“Flint water consultant Veolia, issues report that water meets state and federal standards. Does not report specifically on lead.”

The second sentence is correct, the first a misrepresentation. That’s not what Veolia’s report said.

The second sentence may be factually correct, but the company was not hired by Flint’s emergency manager to evaluate lead levels specifically, based on the supporting documentation accompanying the resolution authorizing the contract with Veolia.

If one entry on the timeline prepared by the state is this iffy, what about the rest of the timeline?

If this timeline is this iffy, what about everything else generated by officials from the governor’s office on down?

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.
19 replies
  1. harpie says:

    While Veolia was not hired for the lead leeching problem [and therefore did not say anything about lead] they did recommend corrosion control. [page 5] The discoloration. they thought might be mainly from old,unlined cast iron pipes. They also say that disruption in service [main breaks, etc] which were common, is also a common cause of discoloration.

  2. harpie says:

    “These are Congress’ purview; as part of the Executive Branch, the EPA does not make law. Only Congress does.”

    ***
    Yes. And according to Congressman Carter [R-Ga] nobody in congress cares about the law.

  3. by the lakeshore says:

    Drink in This Republican Hypocrisy From the Flint Water Hearings Today

    The hearings were somewhat startling in their ferocity, and most of the interrogations ended with congresscritters demanding resignations and yes or no answers. Yes or no, dammit!

    Jesus, what a mess.

    But the howling hypocrisy of conservative Republicans feigning concern about environmental safety, and the howling hypocrisy of conservative Republicans pretending that they expected the EPA to take care of this crisis, was extraordinarily hard to take.

    The crisis in Flint is the result of a full implementation and exercise of a philosophy of government – government is bad, government bureaucrats are always incompetent, devolve federal powers to the states, and that government is best that is limited and, preferably, run like a business.

    http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a43111/flint-hearings-republican-hyprocisy/

  4. Evangelista says:

    To assure general recognition of the actual facts, the Veolia “first sentence” says: “…a review of water quality records for the time period under our study indicates compliance with State and Federal water quality regulations…”

    Veolia did not review water quality, only “water quality records” that were provided to them. Other evidences indicate that the Flint officials who provided the ‘provided records’ new what to leave out. This evidences deliberateness and so willful intent, and so criminal culpability. If Veolia had actual water samples in its possession, to analyze, as well as “records”, and chose to ignore the samples and focus to “records” for its report (to make the report what those asking for it wanted) then Veolia would share the Flint officials’ criminal responsibility.

  5. Rayne says:

    Evangelista (7:22) — “… the Flint officials who provided the ‘provided records’ new (sic) what to leave out.

    — Which Flint officials?
    — Who told same officials what to supply Veolia?

    Under the Emergency Management approach to city administration, the governor-appointed Emergency Manager authorized contracts with third parties like Veolia. Third parties would report results back to the EM. From my timeline:

    04-FEB-2015 — EM Jerry Ambrose signed a resolution authorizing Flint to contract Veolia Water as water quality consultant to review and evaluate the water treatment process and distribution system. The water plant consultant was to provide recommendations to remain compliant with State and Federal agencies. The resolution indicates Veolia was the sole bidder; the resolution does not mention specific water problems to date like lead, TTHM, or biological agent contamination. **Why Veolia was the sole bidder?

    The EM also appointed a single person to head public works, including the city’s water system. From my timeline:

    14-DEC-2011 — EM Michael Brown appointed Howard Croft as Director of Infrastructure and Development. Croft’s role has oversight of Parks and Recreation department, Street Maintenance, Water and Sewer, Sanitation, Planning, Fleet and Community and Economic Development.

    The trail is quite narrow but well-defined.

    • Evangelista says:

      Rayne,

      Thanks for catching my ‘new’ – ‘knew’ typo; my keyboard doesn’t always connect and my spell-check to catch where doesn’t check spelling to syntax.

      As for which Flint officials (Flint employee or whoever given the task) might have presented (sent, posted, email-attached, whatever) ‘lead-free’ records (data) to Veolia, I don’t know. It does, however, appear from timelines that at least some Flint officials and employees knew of the lead-leaching problem before the Veolia contracting. My point, of the whole sentence, was that if officials (including employees acting for supervisors) did not include lead measurements knowing lead-levels were excessive, then the officials, including the Emergency Manager and staff, were criminally culpable, and, if Veolia knew lead-levels were a problem and pretended to not know (as a condition to get the contract, maybe? Maybe being the only bidder for being the one contacted who would ignore?) then Veolia would share in criminal culpability (and join, rather than form a conspiracy, since the Flint political Administration and its appointed Emergency Managers apparently knew, or had reason to know, there would be a problem and was a problem).

      There is an overall difficulty in determining, which is that the entire United States is awash (literally) in lead from over a hundred years of lead-reduced (different from reduced-lead) gasoline, and especially the thirty to fourty years (nineteen- fifties to eighties) of high and super-high performance “Ethyl” (tetra-ethyl-lead) “no-knock” formula gasolines blowing lead into the atmosphere to settle everywhere, and be eventually washed into all water-sources (a SoCal Dept. of Forestry controlled burn in LA county in the 1990s smoke analysis read auto-exhaust levels of hydrocarbons and lead, determined to be for years of smog precipitation settling on the brush and grasses). Ambient lead-levels are a thing American government would be very likely to suppress, since the ‘goddamn fringey-loonies’ would be likely to jump on any numbers. Remember how crazy they went about DDT? And 2-4-D, and 2-4-5-T (Agent Orange)? And, No!, DDT exposures is NOT a factor in Alzheimers (officially), nor has Agent Orange been officially recognized to damage livers… So, how much lead is ‘normal’? Background, you know, like salt in the ocean…?

      Public Officials take money, give orders and dodge responsibilities, and…something else…Oh, yeah, have high opinions of themselves, usually approaching god-like stature…

  6. Rayne says:

    harpie (8:32) — Thanks for that; we really need the actual contract with LAN and their output fulfilling the contract. I haven’t run across those yet, have you? Not certain LAN’s advice would provide adequate cover, city+state must still comply w/SDWA and Lead and Copper Rule. LAN’s probably lawyered up by now, too.

    • harpie says:

      I think it would be good to list/link the EM resolution itself in the timeline, showing the intent to finalize the implementation of use of the river water, and the dollar amount requested/allocated.

  7. harpie says:

    From the water professionals at the American Water Works Association:
    AWWA Lead Resource Community
    http://www.awwa.org/resources-tools/water-knowledge/lead.aspx
    *
    “AWWA members have worked to protect consumers against lead in drinking water for many years, creating scores of helpful communications, technical and public policy resources. In light of the ongoing situation in Flint, Michigan, these many resources are now available from this single hub. Here you will find insights on corrosion control and other lead management issues, the latest legislative and regulatory developments, and public outreach tools to help you speak with consumers and other key stakeholders.”
    *****
    Statement from AWWA CEO David LaFrance concerning Flint water quality crisis
    January 19, 2016 [linked at above “lead resource “hub””]
    *
    “[…] It may be some time before all the facts surrounding Flint are understood. However, there are a few lessons that seem apparent. First, water chemistry is complex. When a community changes water sources or water treatment, unintended consequences can occur. Water systems must be alert to these potential issues and have plans in place to address them. […]”
    *****
    Op Ed from David LaFrance – Together we can get the lead out
    March 11, 2016 [linked at the above “lead resource hub”]
    *
    “[…] To be clear, most water professionals are perplexed – even stunned — at what transpired in Flint. They take seriously their obligation to protect the families in their communities. They know in most cases lead risks in tap water can be effectively managed through corrosion control at the treatment plant. They monitor water for changes in water chemistry and quality. They are not satisfied to simply meet minimum regulatory requirements. […]”
    *****
    EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at 3/17/16 Congressional Hearing:
    *
    “[…] Because it could have created more damage than it cured. Water systems are difficult and deserve technical experts which they did not have available. We did. They wouldn’t let them at the table. […] We couldn’t figure out for the life of us, in our guidance, we never thought that anybody would go from a treated system to an untreated system and not treat it. I didn’t think we ever had to say that. Because I never thought anyone would. That’s where we are today. […]”

  8. harpie says:

    One of the technical resources at the link @10
    Developing Corrosion Control for Drinking Water Systems; Nov. 2014
    http://www.awwa.org/publications/opflow/abstract/articleid/47915201.aspx
    *
    “If a municipality is considering changing how its source water is treated, the potential effects on the corrosivity of the treated water and the need for corrosion control should be evaluated. […]”

    It’s three dense pages and it’s just for a change in water treatment, NOT a change in source.

  9. Rayne says:

    Evangelista (6:41) — Hence my note about Veolia as a sole bidder. Why wasn’t an in-state expert solicited, versus a company located in Texas? Was it because everybody in Michigan knows the Flint River’s sediment is chock full of chemicals from a couple lifetimes of General Motors’ and other manufacturers’ waste? No rational adult in Michigan with a high school level background in our state’s history would believe that ANY river flowing through our industrialized cities is a safe drinking water source.

    At a minimum, why wasn’t the consulting firm LAN — which advised the city about the changes needed to the water treatment plant prior to the cut-over — reengaged and consulted on water processing?

    We need to see the contract with Veolia, and we need to see all communications between Flint EM, Flint public works, and MDEQ about Veolia’s study. Would be nice to see a subpoena snag this.

    • Evangelista says:

      Although associated with “wide-open spaces, blue-skies and yellow-roses, cowboys and good-ol’-boys, Texas is/was an oil state, and has been, and is, a major manufacturing state, with its manufacture largely dominated by petro-chem (plastics, sealants, adhesives, solvents etc., lots of which used to be sold to Michigan).

      This means there ain’t no way a Texas company dealing with water supplies and having responsibilities for water quality would not have the same knowledge you note any Michigan high-schooler to have, and about Michigan, “in the rust-belt, where even the rivers are rusty”.

      Texas companies being Texas companies, and the way Texas companies do business in Texas, using connections and influence and knowing “seven-ways-from-Sunday how to dodge around bullshit government regulations”, it’s the next thing past a sure thing that Veolia was contracted because someone in Flint knew, or heard from a buddy, that Veolia was the go-to outfit to get fudgy paperwork from to bypass, blow-off and bullshit around regulatory bureaucracies.

      It would be awfully nice if the fall-out from the Flint case could encompass Veolia, the Veolia way of doing business and the whole sleazy-slip-slide-and-slither-around better-dodging-through-corruption-of-everything business model (which seems to be the model the whole power-and-control component of the whole United States is running on these days).

      It would be nice to see some real investigation come for the Flint Case, instead of another round of Congressional grand-standing til the tumult dies down, for dual purpose of voter-recognition and damage-control.

  10. harpie says:

    Veolia is NOT a “Texas company”. They are a French Company. The North American subsidiary wrote the 3/12/15 report we’re talking about, here.

    http://www.veolianorthamerica.com/en

    And…I don’t know…maybe they were hired because they have a LOT of experienced people in, many aspects of drinking water/waste water, and environmental clean-up.

    http://www.veolianorthamerica.com/en/about-us/what-we-do/our-company/water-wastewater-and-resource-recovery

    They seem to be pretty damn competent at what they do.

  11. harpie says:

    From the Veolia Report:
    *
    “[…] The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has requested specific actions be taken related to the total trihalomethane (TTHM) issues. The February 2015 report from LAN (Operational Evaluation Report TTHM Formation Concern) indicated apparent reasons for the elevated levels of TTHM in the distribution system. […]”
    *
    RAYNE: Do you know if this LAN report surfaced anywhere? I haven’t seen it. According to Veolia, LAN’s report was “sent to the State”. Did MDEQ request this LAN report?
    *
    Veolia seems to be agreeing with the LAN assessment of the TTHM problem. According to their report:
    *
    “Our assessment confirms that these reasons are likely given our on-site laboratory testing and
    analysis, as well as our first-hand observations.”
    *
    They DID do “on-site testing and analysis” and make “first-hand observations”.

Comments are closed.