In Michigan, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton has charged three government officials for their alleged involvement in the Flint water crisis. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby are each charged with felony misconduct in office, felony conspiracy to tamper with evidence, felony tampering with evidence and misdemeanor violations of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.
The third person charged is former city water plant operator Michael Glasgow, who is accused of willful neglect of office, a misdemeanor, and felony tampering with evidence for allegedly reporting erroneous levels of toxic lead to the state. He has not yet been arraigned. Yesterday, he was placed on administrative leave with pay.
However, Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards believes that Glasgow may be just a small fish in a sea of accusations over official responsibility for what is proving to be one of the most infamous examples of government mismanagement in Michigan’s history. Edwards told the Flint Journal that Glasgow is not “in the same category” as Busch and Prysby. While Glasgow “made mistakes,” Edwards said he seen no evidence that would put him in the same league as the two DEQ employees.
Even while Glasgow may face as many as four years in prison for just the tampering charge, Edwards sees that higher-ups may be implicated. He said that blame rests not only with other DEQ employees besides Busch and Prysby, but also at the federal level. Edwards suggested that blame also rests at the feet of Susan Hedman, the former administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5. Hedman resigned when her agency’s sluggish response to the crisis came to light late in 2015. Nonetheless, Hedman was vocally defended in Congressional testimony by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who also skirted responsibility. Of Hedman, Edwards said he is glad she has resigned but asked “Is that enough?”
Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan
Edwards has brought a team of researchers to the city to determine the level of harm and monitor improvement in Flint’s water system. In 2014, the city of Flint switched from water brought from Lake Huron through Detroit to sourcing its drinking water from the Flint River. The lack of corrosion controls has been linked to the leaching of toxic levels of lead from aging galvanized and lead water supply pipes throughout the city. In light of the discovery of high levels of lead in blood tests conducted among local children, the city belatedly went back to the Lake Huron source for water.
Edwards said that Glasgow did not have enough training to understand how harmful his actions were, especially in view of the fact that he was acting under DEQ direction. Edwards, however, expressed approval of the criminal charges in all three cases. He added that “environmental crimes” were committed at the state and federal levels. Bureaucrats must be held accountable for destroying Flint, said Edwards. “We can't live in a country where civil servants and government employees behave with malevolence and through their action or inaction, allow children's future to be raped and cities destroyed," he said. Edwards added, "That's what happened here."
Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette's office claims Prysby and Busch misled EPA regulators when they claimed that Flint was using appropriate corrosion controls. It was the DEQ that did not ask Flint to treat river water for corrosiveness, thus leaching neurotoxic lead into drinking water.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Schuette said yesterday that others may still be charged in the Flint water crisis. “These charges are only the beginning,” Schuette said. Democrats, progressives, and local activists have called for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder (R). Snyder said yesterday that he has not yet been interviewed in the investigation, even though he faced sharp questioning last month by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress in Washington DC. Schuette promised that his investigation “will be thorough, it will be complete, it will be exhaustive,” adding “We will enforce the law. For Schuette, a presumptive Republican gubernatorial candidate to succeed the embattled Snyder, no person or issue is off limits.
Among the 2.5 million emails examined by investigators, several written by Glasgow are suggestive.
Just before switching from Lake Huron water to Flint River water, Glasgow warned the DEQ of a potential disaster. "I have people above me making plans to distribute water ASAP," said Glasgow in an email he sent on April 17, 2014. "I was reluctant before, but after looking at the monitoring schedule and our current staffing, I do not anticipate giving the OK to begin sending water out anytime soon," said the email. "If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple weeks, it will be against my direction.”
There are multiple civil lawsuits now pending that could mean millions of dollars in compensation to those allegedly harmed by lead, and also possibly by Legionnaire’s disease, that would be paid by state and federal taxpayers in addition to up to $1 billion to replace Flint’s aging water supply system that dates back more than 100 years.