“Hello. This is Miguel Del Toral from EPA Region 5, and I’d like to speak with you about problems with drinking water in Flint Michigan.”
So stated Miguel Del Toral, to Flint’s hero mom Lee-Anne Walters and Dr. Marc Edwards in a phone call Friday evening. Del Toral refused to discuss his 6+ month ordeal, but was instead focused on gathering information about the current situation on the ground in Flint–so that he could begin to help Flint’s beleaguered residents.
Del Toral, gagged and effectively placed under house arrest by EPA Region 5 Administrator and political appointee Susan Hedman, was certainly guilty of doing his job. In early July, Del Toral released an interim memo to sources (Walters/Edwards) outside of EPA, that first sounded the alarm about MDEQ’s illegal decision to not use corrosion control for the Flint River water source. His memo also detailed the perils that illegal decision posed to the city of Flint and the health of its children. The lack of corrosion control has caused red water, taste and odor problems, pipe infrastructure damage, childhood lead poisoning and quite possibly an outbreak of Legionnaires disease.
Outstanding reporting by HuffPost, Detroit News and others, has demonstrated how Hedman worked hand in hand with MDEQ to cover up Flint’s water woes and evade accountability for the growing disaster. EPA knew about MDEQ’s illegal actions since at least April 2015, and did nothing to protect Flint residents. EPA has also known about blatant misrepresentations on water lead safety since 2004 across the United States, and has repeatedly helped cover up more recent problems in other cities such as New Orleans.
Hedman’s actions actively aided, abetted and emboldened the MDEQ, in their efforts to deny their epic blunder. As stated by the Governor’s task force:
Throughout 2015, as the public raised concerns and as independent studies and testing were conducted and brought to the attention of MDEQ, the agency’s response was often one of aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved. We find both the tone and substance of many MDEQ public statements to be completely unacceptable…
None of the above would have occurred if Hedman had not undermined the Del Toral memo.
Hedman also personally misled Michigan’s politicians, who were demanding straight answers about the situation in Flint. In early July, Hedman apologized for Del Toral’s memo to Flint’s Mayor Dayne Walling and silenced Del Toral.
FLINTWATERSTUDY is also in possession of e-mails, demonstrating that in phone calls with Michigan legislators as late as September 24th, Hedman would not acknowledge that Flint water was unsafe or that additional testing of the water for lead risks was even necessary. She offloaded all responsibility to the MDEQ, and even attempted to discredit Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s data on the increased incidence of lead poisoning in Flint children.
A source outside EPA, familiar with Hedman’s management style based on experiences in other political appointments, told Flintwaterstudy that she is “uniquely unqualified to lead a federal agency,” and that they were “not surprised Del Toral sent the interim memo to sources outside EPA” because “she <Hedman> is a control freak.”
While EPA’s recent action to free Del Toral comes too late to save Flint’s people and pipes, it may help to repair the dangerous crisis in confidence that Flint residents now justifiably have in government. That loss of confidence is now endangering the health of Flint residents.
Last week Flintwaterstudy fielded calls from relief workers, who were unsuccessfully trying to convince residents that the state-supplied water filters would actually remove lead. Jenan Jondy of the Sylvester Broome Center-Empowerment Village, told us “no one trusts a word we are saying, can you put information on your website that we can show them that states the filters work?” When we promoted a website set up by Senator Ananich’s staff in September, which has pictures of the filters certified by the National Sanitation Foundation to remove lead, and further mentioned the great work Ananich has been doing, Jenan agreed but stated “no one trusts anything the government says.”
For those new to the story and who are perplexed by the unfolding situation in Flint, Jenan’s on the ground experience says it all. The loss of confidence in government is so complete, that a website run by student volunteers located 13 hours from Flint, presently has more credibility with residents than the state government, the federal government, or even the best efforts of an outstanding State Senator.
Even worse, many residents currently refuse to believe that Flint’s water is acceptable for bathing and showering, which is a concern because the public health benefits from basic sanitation, outweigh the relatively low dangers from lead and legionella that are currently in Flint water. Residents are justifiably scared and untrusting. And who can blame them after the years of deceit and denial by MDEQ that were assisted by EPA.
It is unfortunate that President Obama, cannot fix the root causes that led to the present crisis in confidence of government currently playing out in Flint Michigan, by signing an executive order to effectively protect the many federal employees like Del Toral who try to do their jobs. Too many agencies, currently uphold a “perverted system of natural selection,” that destroys good, strong and heroic employees.
Addressing that issue would require a bipartisan effort to reform a corrupt culture at many agencies, as revealed by a congressional investigation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in 2010 and associated witness testimony. But in the wake of the hearings, CDC simply re-wrote history in Orwellian fashion (see PDF below), and never responded to public hopes that the responsible career government employees would be held accountable. The same outrageous attitude exhibited by MDEQ to Flint residents in 2015, is still deeply rooted in the behavior and culture of top CDC officials.
But President Obama can help ameliorate the harm done by state and federal agencies to Flint, by providing federal relief, and also by making sure that the many caring employees at EPA (like Del Toral) who desperately want to do their job become the public face of the government response.
Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards