Jeff Seipenko, a special agent for the Michigan attorney general, leaves the courtroom with signed paperwork that authorised the charges brought against officials. Photo credit: Jake May/Associated Press
According to the Guardian and the New York Times, in Flint, Michigan, United States (U.S.), over the crisis of lead poisoning in drinking water in the city, five state officials – including the head of the state health department, Nick Lyons – were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Linked to the deaths of 12 residents of Flint and the illness of more than a hundred who were afflicted with Legionnaires’ disease and lead poisoning, this latest development is the closest investigators have come to directly putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of officials for the crisis engulfing the city.
“This is a case where there’s been a willful disregard of just using ordinary due diligence,” Todd Flood, a special prosecutor for the office of the Michigan attorney general that is leading the investigation, said to the Guardian in an interview. “I have come to see there are two types of people in this world – those that give a damn, and those that don’t.”
According to investigators, the drinking water in Flint was contaminated with lead as well as legionella bacteria after the city’s water source was moved from Detroit city to the Flint River without any proper precautions and measures taken against pipe corrosion in a bid to save money.
The switch quickly proved to be disastrous in more ways than one, with the legionella outbreak occurring between 2014 and 2015, afflicting more than a hundred and killing 12. Additionally, officials were forced to launch a programme to replace pipes all over the metropolis, a costly process that will take years when a judge recently decreed that Michigan would put US$97 million aside to replace lead pipelines in Flint.
The investigation has dragged on for more than a year, and attorney general Bill Schuette told the Guardian that investigators would now turn their gazes to the officials who are now faced with criminal charges. According to the New York Times, investigators who examined emails from 2014 to 2016 revealed that the top health officials in the state were aware of the outbreak, yet did not caution the public until early 2016 as they were often embroiled in jurisdictional battles regarding protocol and responsibility.
By the time officials issued warnings, it was too little, too late for the 12: Prosecutors said that it was so deplorable a failing that it came up to nothing short of involuntary manslaughter.
“People in Flint have died as a result of the decisions made with those charged to protect the health and safety of those individuals,” Schuette told the Guardian in an interview. “It’s about restoring accountability and trust to the families of Flint.”
While Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan has not had any charges brought against him, the fact that the latest charges have gone further than ever before into the state government leaves the possibility of the investigation reaching even higher open.
“The Flint water crisis was and is a failure of leadership,” an investigative report Schuette issued stated. “A cause of the breakdown in state governmental management was a fixation, a preoccupation, with data, finances and costs, instead of placing the health, safety and welfare of citizens first.”
According to the New York Times, the report also found an incredibly simple and cost-effective solution for Flint’s rampant water issue: Common anti-corrosion chemicals what would have cost the city, while financially struggling, only US$200 per day.
“These charges reflect the deaths that occurred,” Schuette said. “I owe that to the citizens of Flint…the moms and dads who wanted to give their kids a cool drink of water, but they didn’t because they were fearful of the water.”
Sources: The New York Times, The Guardian