Del Toral’s Heroic Effort Was Ultimately Vetted in the Blood Lead of Flint’s Children

Excellent articles by Arthur Delaney at Huffington Post and Jim Lynch at the Detroit News shed light on delays in the Federal government’s response to the Flint water crisis.

EPA Region 5 Director Susan Hedman’s now explains that from April to November 2015, EPA was actively seeking a “legal opinion on whether the EPA could force action” at MDEQ to implement corrosion control. Hedman also correctly stated that:

Communication about lead in drinking water and the health impacts associated with that, that’s the role of DHHS, the county health department and the drinking water utility.

But what if MDEQ was refusing to do their job, as Hedman now acknowledges?

At what point did EPA notify the country health department, regarding its opinion that MDEQ was not following Federal law, so they could make an informed decision about communicating risks to the public about the health impacts of high lead in their drinking water?

More importantly, why should Flint’s children be allowed to drink lead contaminated water, unprotected by Federal law, while EPA and MDEQ spend months politely wrangling over jurisdiction, technicalities and legalities?

Our FOIA revealed that in early July, Hedman actually apologized to Flint Mayor Dayne Walling for Miguel Del Toral’s memo detailing the imminent peril of Flint’s children, and further said that:

When the report has been revised and fully vetted by EPA management, the findings and recommendations will be shared with the City and MDEQ and MDEQ will be responsible for following up with the City.

EPA also silenced Del Toral, and stood by as outsiders in communication with Hedman publicly discredited him. On September 8th 2015 Mayor Dayne Walling commented on the Del Toral letter:

“Walling said Weaver is making a mistake by citing a letter from “one individual staff person” who does not speak for U.S. EPA. “It’s dangerous for a candidate to make allegations that are not based on fact,” Walling said.

As late as September 29th 2015, MDEQ’s Brad Wurfel told NPR that:

“…the report was the work of a “rogue employee” and promised the final report — not yet released — would tell a much different story”

Regarding the above public attack by MDEQ Hedman stated to Huffpost that:

…. the Department of Environmental Quality apologized to him <Del Toral> for the “rogue” characterization. She emphasized that Del Toral is part of the team. “He is one of the top experts in the world on lead and copper in drinking water and a key member of EPA’s Flint Safe Drinking Water Task Force,”

Where and when did this MDEQ apology happen? Behind closed doors?

How did that private apology in late September, help shape public perceptions of the problem, or for that matter help the county health department or even Flint’s Mayor exercise their role to protect Flint’s children?

The disconnect between Hedman’s bureaucratic approach, and her agencies moral obligation to protect the public welfare, is perhaps best exemplified by events in early July immediately after Walling and Hedman first discussed the Del Toral memo. Specifically, Walling has been publicly excoriated for his July 9th appearance on local television drinking Flint water to demonstrate its complete safety.

Immediately after reading our e-mails FOIA’d between MDEQ and EPA, Walling <under>stated:

The federal EPA needed to be more aggressive with the DEQ…The emails show these concerns were being raised by experts, but they weren’t” being shared with the city.

When was Flint Mayor Dayne Walling finally informed by EPA that Del Toral and his memo were credible? In early October 2015. By that point, the validity of the Del Toral memo had been fully vetted in the rising blood lead of Flint’s children. EPA’s long awaited legal analysis was finally released in early November 2015-it essentially exonerated MDEQ.

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

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