Gov. Snyder Forms Committee to Oversee Flint's Water Crisis

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has named a group of medical and field experts to a committee that will determine long-term solutions to fix Flint's water system and help residents who have been exposed to lead.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, the governor says the 17-member committee will make recommendations regarding the health of people exposed to lead, study Flint's water infrastructure and determine potential upgrades, and establish ways to improve communication between local and state government.

"This is the start of a longer process," Synder said.

The committee includes Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, who has extensively studied the issue in Flint and elsewhere, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who is credited with bringing the problem to the public's attention after state agencies initially dismissed her concerns.

Members will serve three-year terms expiring Dec. 31, 2018.

Weaver said at the news conference Wednesday she has hired the Virginia Tech professor whose extensive testing helped bring the city's lead-tainted water problems to light.

Marc Edwards will oversee all water testing done by the state and federal governments. She added he will be "fully independent," report to her and get paid through private donations.

Weaver has requested that $3 million of the budget approved by the state House last week goes to help residents pay their bills.

“Some people have been paying their bills, and we thank them for that because we need the money,” Weaver said. "But residents should not have to pay for water that they can't and haven't used." 

Snyder also said he has asked the federal government to expand medicaid to anyone under the age of 21.

Meanwhile, environmental and civil rights groups are asking a federal judge to order the prompt replacement of all lead pipes in Flint's water system to ensure residents of the city have a safe drinking supply.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday morning seeks an order forcing city and state officials to remedy alleged violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, including a failure to properly treat the water for corrosion, test it for lead, notify residents of results and accurately report if the correct sample sites are being selected.

Flint residents are currently unable to drink unfiltered tap water due to the contamination, and tests have shown high lead levels in some children's blood. Snyder said Wednesday that he could not give a date for when the city's residents would be able to cease their dependence on bottled water.

"The only way to permanently and completely fix the problem of lead in drinking water is to conduct the full replacement of the lead-containing pipes and solder in a water system," said Sarah Tallman, a lawyer with the National Resources Defense Council.

The group filed the complaint on behalf of citizens along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Melissa Mays, a Flint resident.

Gov. Snyder's administration has estimated it could cost up to $55 million to repair what officials have estimated are 15,000 damaged lead service lines leading from water mains to homes and other buildings. The complaint says the pipes should be replaced at no cost to customers.

The suit names as defendants the city of Flint, state Treasurer Nick Khouri — who continues to have budget powers as the city transitions away from state management — state-appointed officials on the Flint's Receivership Transition Advisory Board and city administrator Natasha Henderson, who was hired by one of Flint's former emergency managers. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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