[Commentary] Imminent and Substantial Endangerment in Flint: Better Late Than Never?

Now that EPA “Good guys” Bob Kaplan, Miguel Del Toral, Mike Schock, Darren Lytle and others have been brought in, and EPA political appointee Susan Hedman is out of the way, EPA has exercised its 1431 “imminent and substantial endangerment” powers to take over responsibility from MDEQ for Flint.

This is nearly 4 months after we (and other many environmental groups) publicly pleaded:

“If there was ever a case where [the] EPA should exert emergency powers and take primacy away from an agency, this is it.”

While it comes months after the public health crisis was largely addressed in early October, we believe the intervention is necessary to address the dangerous crisis of confidence that Flint residents rightly have in their government. We publicly endorse the qualifications and ethics of the new team who is in charge at EPA.

While responsibility for the Flint water crisis still rests on a few career employees at MDEQ, none of whom have lost their jobs, responsibility for the public crisis in confidence rests entirely with the EPA. Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, Paul Schwartz, Ralph Scott (deceased) and Dr. Marc Edwards have fought a losing battle since 2005, to get officials at the U.S. EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW) to get serious about lead in water.

When we exposed cheating in Washington D.C., New Orleans, Durham and elsewhere, OGWDW officials stabbed us in the back, and supported wrongdoers in every single case. Rather than learn lessons from childhood lead poisoning in Durham in 2006, EPA OGWDW stated:

…there is no evidence of a huge public health threat originating from lead in drinking water. Rates of lead poisoning in children have declined for years, noted Veronica Blette, special assistant to the EPA director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. “[Edwards] wants to say there is an emerging problem,” Blette said. “But I don’t see the percentage of children with elevated lead in their blood increasing.”

That is right. Before they enforce the existing law, EPA wants us to produce hard data showing the percentage of children with elevated lead in their blood increasing—well, their wish has been granted in Flint.

Consultants also openly bragged about approaches, that would make lead in water look low during EPA compliance sampling, even when it was high when people were drinking the water, at national meetings right in front of OGWDW officials. In November 2011 Dr. Edwards wrote EPA OGWDW:

What, if anything, does EPA Office of water, intend to do about such practices? Because of a lack of leadership on this and other issues, the EPA LCR is currently being used to provide US consumers with a false sense of confidence about levels of lead in their public water supply. Through its inaction, EPA is effectively condoning unethical behavior. As far as I am concerned, the US EPA is more to blame for the next child who suffers health harm from elevated lead in water due to utility gaming, than the consultants/utilities who now openly engage in such practices…I can only conclude that… the US EPA Office of Water does not care whether children are lead poisoned from public drinking water

EPA OGWDW owns the Flint Water Crisis of confidence, that is unfolding before our eyes. As a reminder, MDEQ and EPA have repeatedly insisted that Flint has always met the EPA LCR. On September 29,2015, Dr. Edwards wrote OGWDW:

EPA Office of Water and EPA Region 5 are a national embarrassment. You have a city in crisis, kids with elevated blood lead, and NO CORROSION CONTROL PLAN FOR 16 MONTHS, and yet you sit there and do absolutely nothing.

As we stated above, better late than never. But just barely.

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

6 thoughts on “[Commentary] Imminent and Substantial Endangerment in Flint: Better Late Than Never?

  1. THANK YOU ROY Siddhartha, Marc Edwards, ACLU’s Flint documentary Goyatte(sp) , Mayor Karen Williams-Weaver and your teams for your help to Flint in this Environmental Racism and poor issue in Flint.

    PLEASE continue to help us ,and the USA, till ALL WATER corrections, protocols, etc. are completed.

  2. Einstein suggested that those who create a problem are not the ones to solve the problem. The EPA should defer to a private or a state agency outside of Michigan that has proven itself to be non-violators of a human right to safe drinking water. The political machinations of our American oligarchy require Americans to unite against this abuse and pursue a democracy again.

  3. This not my state, but this stuff goes on every where. People who work for sewer or drinking water processors are AWAYS playing catch me if you can with regulators wether private or municipal. They want cheap water, cheap sewer, and don’t want to face the cost of replacement or keep up of the systems. Out of sight, out of mind really is a problem for a something we take for granted but is our second most immediate need after air. Clean water available at your tap is a mark of a first world. Sadly America is seeing people in many places live in third world circumstances in our country. All that money for war leaves less to care for our own places.

  4. “Follow the money.”

    Who gains financially from denying the problem? We know who loses.

    Who is putting pressure on the EPA OGWDW to avoid declaring the necessity of updating our public water systems? Is it the city governments, state governments, federal government, political parties, wealthy investors?

    Are opponents of cheap, fresh public water sources those who invest in private water sources, bottled water, snake oil health products such as home water filters?

    State and local governments are the likely sources, but generally they don’t have sufficient clout to silence people with money. One can literally buy a US Senator for the price of 2 tickets to a Super Bowl hospitality suite.

    I know several microbiologists, environmental engineers with civil engineering degrees and epidemiologists with PhDs. We know that job security concerns motivate people to keep their mouths shut. Liability fears of being sued for releasing information are also a concern. But each and every one of them said they would find a way to get public safety information into the hands of reporters or attorneys who could get it before the public.

    The more we know about how those conducting the basic science were silenced against their professional expertise the better we will be able to prevent future problems.

  5. Is this a “bait and switch” policy by the government in Michigan. They know that blood levels decline after 28 days of separation from the source of contamination. How long have these kids been on bottled water? The fear is what is in the pipes now, but the problem is what did the kids draink for over ONE YEAR. If test come back with only moderately elevated levels of lead in the majority of children, will the state claim no harm has been done?

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