The Environmental Protection Agency administrator whose region includes Flint, Michigan, resigned Thursday over the agency's response to the toxic water crisis.
Susan Hedman, EPA Region 5 administrator, offered her resignation as the agency also condemned the response of local officials. After the city switched its water source to the Flint River in 2014, a move made by a state-appointed emergency manager that required state approval, residents began complaining of its brown color, smell, and taste. Testing later showed elevated levels of lead in the bodies of Flint residents, including children.
"EPA has determined the State of Michigan and the City of Flint's responses to the drinking water crisis in Flint have been inadequate to protect public health, there are serious, ongoing concerns with delays, lack of adequate transparency, and capacity to safely manage the drinking water system," the agency said.
On Thursday, the EPA issued an emergency order "to make sure necessary steps to protect public health happen immediately." State environmental regulators were previously panned by the Flint Water Advisory Task Force, who described a culture of doing as little as legally possible instead of a focus on public safety.
But the federal EPA also knew about issues with Flint's water for months without making their concerns public.
EPA head Gina McCarthy told her staff across the country that it would now officially be the agency's policy to immediately elevate public health and environmental issues for an assessment and response.
The agency's inspector general will also investigate Region 5 — which includes Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio — and their supervision of public water systems.
The EPA actions came as President Obama announced $80 million in federal aid for Michigan to put toward infrastructure. Obama also this week spoke with agency officials to ensure the EPA was sharing any information it had related to safety issues with the public.
"Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they're drinking in American cities," he said. "That's not something that we should accept."
A Department of Justice investigation into the Flint crisis is ongoing. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday he could not comment on the EPA's actions while the investigation was ongoing, but he added Obama believed accountability was important for what he described as a "manmade crisis."
"The President does want to make sure, and will make sure, that if there were errors or wrongdoing that was carried out by officials at the EPA that they're held accountable for those actions," Earnest said.
Flint's mayor, Karen Weaver, had earlier this week called for more federal aid for the financially struggling area as it begins to deal with the longterm consequences of the contaminated water.
"It's going to impact mental health, special education, foster care and adoption, juvenile justice and the list goes on and on," Weaver told CityLab.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at email@example.com.
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