Lawmaker calls for hearings on Flint water crisis

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A top Democratic lawmaker called Tuesday for legislative hearings and an audit to probe the state's oversight of drinking water issues in Flint, which he described as "extremely troubling."

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint said regulators' job is to "protect people" and they failed.

Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature last week approved $9.3 million in aid to address the crisis, which included $6 million to help temporarily reconnect the 99,000-resident city to Detroit's water system after elevated blood-lead levels were found in children.

Ananich stopped short of echoing demands from the Michigan Democratic Party and a liberal advocacy group that state Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant resign or be removed by Snyder.

Wyant said Monday a mistake was made and federal drinking water rules were not followed properly when Flint switched its water source from Detroit to the Flint River in a cost-cutting move while under state emergency management. He reassigned the chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance but said he was convinced that program staff believed they were doing their job right.

 "We need to have a thorough investigation before we make any decisions about who should be fired or anything like that," Ananich told reporters. "It's clear that he sees the gravity of the problem in his department. I think he's learning that every day. We have to get to the bottom of how folks in the drinking water division could so blatantly do everything they can in their power to hide the truth from the public."

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof formed a new Oversight Committee last month. The House has an Oversight and Ethics Committee.

Meekhof spokeswoman Amber McCann, while not immediately committing to Flint water hearings, said he and Ananich will continue talking about "what should be done in the future to prevent this type of situation."

Ananich also sent a letter to state Auditor General Doug Ringler asking that he answer specific questions in an audit of the drinking water office. The audit was already underway before Flint's water problems surfaced, he said.

Ananich wants to know how the office ensures the data it receives is accurate, what accountability measures are in place for staff and if there are policies to "escalate major infractions up the chain of command."

The Flint River is more corrosive than Detroit's water from Lake Huron, and because proper corrosion controls were not implemented after the switch in April 2014, the river water picked up lead from aging pipes that connect water mains to houses and businesses. If consumed, lead can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities.
 

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