Michigan Governor Promises More Help for City Amid Drinking-Water Crisis

Michigan's governor pledged additional state assistance Thursday for the southeastern Michigan city of Flint as it deals with elevated lead levels in its drinking water, but he provided little detail about what additional help and money would be provided.

Also Thursday, a professor who has investigated the Flint situation posted online an email obtained through a public records request that shows a top aide to Gov. Rick Snyder warned the state in July that Flint residents were "basically getting blown off."

Snyder met with Mayor Karen Weaver two days after declaring an emergency for Flint and Genessee County. Both described the discussion as productive and said they agreed to establish a group of state and local agency officials that will consider future steps.

Among them could be stepped-up efforts distribute filters and provide health care for affected people, Snyder said. His spokesman, Dave Murray, added the possibility of helping test children's blood and the water supply for lead.

"I really appreciate the mayor's attitude and this is about solving problems, improving the water situation in Flint, and actually trying to improve all of Flint for the longer term," Snyder said.

Flint switched its drinking water source from the Detroit system to the Flint River in April 2014 to save money while the cash-strapped city was led by an emergency manager appointed by the Republican governor. But the city returned to Detroit water in October after testing detected increased lead levels in residential water supplies and in children's blood. Lead can cause permanent brain damage, leading to behavior problems and learning disabilities.

A state investigation found the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was largely to blame. Its director, Dan Wyant, resigned last month. Snyder apologized for state government's role in the crisis.

The state helped pay to return Flint to the Detroit water system and for filters that can be used in homes, schools and elsewhere to remove lead, Murray said. No timeline has been set for determining additional measures or how much funding the state will provide, he added.

"That process just started in earnest," Murray said.

The Detroit News reported that Weaver said at the news conference that replacing the aging water pipes could cost from "millions up to $1.5 billion."

The State Emergency Operations Center was activated this week following Snyder's emergency declaration. Its director, Captain Chris Kelenske of the Michigan State Police, said a primary goal is to provide every household in Flint with a water filter, which can remove nearly all lead from water when properly used.

He also said damage assessments are taking place and more information is needed to determine whether a request for a federal disaster declaration will be needed.

The email posted by Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech, was written by Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore, Murray confirmed Thursday. He said Muchmore sent the email July 22 to Nancy Peeler, head of the childhood lead poisoning prevention program in the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

"I'm frustrated by the water issue in Flint. I really don't think people are getting the benefit of the doubt," Muchmore wrote after several meetings in Flint, adding later, "These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we're just not sympathizing with their plight)."

Peeler responded that, after a review, "we don't believe our data demonstrates an increase in lead poisoning rates that might be attributable to the change in water source for Flint."

That assessment was later shown to be wrong, Murray said. 

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