EMAILS: MDEQ official gave raises to workers dealing with Flint resident complaints

Thousands of emails released today on the Flint water crisis. They offer some answers though many questions remain. Plenty of people did sound the alarm - but by the time anything  was done - it was too late.

And what was so shocking, one week before Gov. Rick Snyder ordered Flint to stop drinking the water, a top official with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality gave his employees a raise for how they handled resident complaints about the lead tainted water.

Sifting through thousands of emails from multiple state departments show what many have been speculating all along. Officials knew about high lead levels, no corrosion controls and the possible impact, but did nothing.

Even as the Flint water crisis became obvious - in an August of 2015 response, Richard Benzie from the DEQ appeared to want to wait it out, referring to corrosion controls.

He emailed Liane Shekter Smith and Stephen Busch also from the DEQ:

"Do they know about the impending change to the source water in 2016," Benzie wrote. "And that they should not spend a lot of time making recommendations about changes to water treatment or water quality without knowing that?"

Meantime, multiple emails dating back to the water source switch over in April of 2014 show the city, DEQ and Environmental Protection Agency were aware corrosion controls were not being used on Flint's lead pipes and turns out they weren't testing the water properly either.

Multiple people alerted the DEQ to the high lead levels even as late as August of 2015, but Stephen Busch from the DEQ - claimed the city was in compliance, despite an email that came out one week prior which shows it clearly wasn't.

One reason is because testing results appear to be manipulated. The DEQ only gathered 71 out of 100 samples which had high lead levels. The DEQ invalidated  two samples to stay below federal lead reporting levels - which meant the city of Flint did not need to take action to correct the problem.

But that didn't stop Flint's Water Quality Supervisor Michael Glasgow from sounding the alarm.
In an email to the DEQ, dated July 2015, Glasgow wrote Flint has lots of lead pipes, no corrosion control treatment and no legitimate testing.

"People cannot afford bottled water. This is an unprecedented situation and the EPA needed to take action now. One child already had an elevated lead level. The only reason they already knew about the issues but the MDEQ still publicly insisting Flint water has tested safe and there were no violations."

Months before in February of 2015, the EPA insisted to the DEQ, that Flint must have corrosion control treatment.

But nearly 18 months after Flint switched its water source, Howard Croft, Flint's Department of Public Works director only discussed the possibility of implementing corrosion controls because the DEQ stated  Flint met water standards - and no action was taken.

In a city the size of Flint - corrosion controls are required by law.

More emails showed the city of Flint tried to warn the DEQ its water plant wasn't prepared for the switch over.

In April of 2014, one week before the city switched to the Flint River,  the utility manager Mike Glasgow emailed Adam Rosenthal with the DEQ.

He said: "If water is distributed from this plant, it will be against my direction. He needed more time to train staff and update monitoring plans."

We now know the possible result. Shortly after the switch the Genesee County Health Department dealt with a Legionella outbreak - Environmental Health Advisor Jim Henry alerted the DEQ, but Stephen Busch who has since been suspended, denied a connection.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha made the Michigan Department of Community Health aware of her findings - an increase in lead levels in Flint children.

But as we know the former Michigan Community Health Department dismissed her findings - saying how she collected data compared to the state, was like "comparing apples and oranges."

Attisha held her press conference alerting the public. And what did the DEQ do about it?

One week later Richard Benzie, the DEQ's chief of field operations, celebrated his staff and decided to give them a 2 percent raise.

At the same time he urged them to field calls from concerned Flint residents and "continue to tell them their water meets the standards and is safe."

And if residents call to complain about high lead levels - he wrote to just tell them "to run the faucet for a few minutes."

As far as the fall out, DEQ's Liane Shekter Smith has been fired, Stephen Busch who she worked closely, has been suspended.
 
An investigation going on as we speak to find out if the lack of action by anyone involved, reached a criminal level.   

But did Gov. Snyder know anything? The simple answer is no from this collection of emails. It was mainly the city of Flint, the county and the EPA which continued asked the DEQ and the state health department to take action - which they did not.

To read the emails: 

DEQ 1

DEQ 2

DEQ 3

DEQ 4

DTMB

DHHS

MDARD

Treasury

Auditor General email
 


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