Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday that he will testify before Congress on the health crisis in Flint, where a disastrous decision to save money by switching the city’s water supply has sickened many with Legionnaire’s disease and potentially poisoned thousands of children with lead.
“The people of Flint have suffered because they were failed by all levels of government, and so it is understandable that there are questions at all levels of government,” the governor told the Detroit News.
The governor's decision comes after his government released more than 24,000 pages of official emails and documents regarding the health crisis.
The emails, released in response to a Freedom of Information request, bring new revelations into the extent to which federal and state officials were aware of the incoming health crisis months before the dangers became known to the public. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and several other high-ranking officers have been the subject of much criticism for not acknowledging the problem until earlier this year.
Among the new revelations, as the Detroit News first reported, are that the Environmental Protection Agency discussed the presence of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint’s water supply as early as March 2015 — nearly 10 months before Gov. Snyder told the public about the danger.
Legionnaires is a water-borne respiratory disease with pneumonia-like symptoms, according to the CDC. Most people are exposed to it through vaporized water in warmer climates, making it especially prevalent in nursing homes and assisted care facilities. Although it can be cured with antibiotics, it can kill if left untreated.
Between April 2014, when the city changed its water supply, and March 2015, Flint registered nearly 40 cases of the disease — more than all the cases in the previous five years combined.
Previously released emails had shown that state and local officials had discussed a dramatic increase in Legionnaire’s cases in Flint since the change in the city’s water source. But the new documents reveal the extent to which federal agencies like the EPA were also aware of the danger. The agency's manager for the region resigned earlier this month.
The EPA discussed the Legionnaire's outbreak during a six-way phone call on March 26 2015, according to notes taken by Jennifer Crooks, the head of the agency’s drinking-water programs for Michigan. During the call, Thomas Poy, the EPA’s head of ground and drinking water for the Midwest, told his colleagues that “the state is currently figuring out a communication-with-the-public plan.”
The Michigan government would not publicly acknowledge the drinking water crisis in Flint until Jan. 13 of this year, when Gov. Snyder gave a press conference.
In fact, the newly released documents show, in May 2015, a state official wrote to the CDC to say the Legionnaire’s outbreak “was over” — even though the disease would kill four more people that summer.
Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Nicolás Medina Mora at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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