As the spotlight continues to shine on the administration of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and its role in the Flint water crisis, a new revelation on what he knew about the water problems creates a bad situation for Snyder, pointing to criminal wrongdoing.
On March 13 of last year, Gov. Snyder was aware of an outbreak in Legionnaires’ disease and that there was a possible link to the Flint water, as Reuters reported. This occurred long before the governor said he had received news about the uptick in cases of the disease, which is a severe type of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria.
Progress Michigan, a liberal watchdog organization, released a report of emails they obtained among top-level state officials, in which Snyder’s senior aide Harvey Hollins, Snyder’s director of urban initiatives, and Dan Wyant, former head of the Department of Environmental Quality, knew of the Legionnaires’ epidemic and the possible connection to usage of water from the Flint River. Moreover, a county health official in Genesee County, where Flint is located, identified the Flint River as the source.
“That’s a significant uptick — more than all the cases in the last five years or more combined,” wrote DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel in an email to Hollins. Although Flint residents had been complaining about their discolored water causing rashes, Wurfel told Hollins the official who raised concerns about the Flint River as the source of the Legionnaires’ problem had stepped out of bounds, as Huffington Post reported.
“He’s made the leap formally in his email that the uptick in cases is directly attributable to the river as a drinking water source — this is beyond irresponsible, given that is his [sic] department that has failed to do the necessary traceback work to provide any conclusive evidence of of where the outbreak is sourced,” Wurfel wrote.
Meanwhile, last month Gov. Snyder claimed he had just learned of the spike in Legionnaires cases. According to Snyder’s office, the agency that accepted blame for the crisis also was responsible for failing to act on the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak and did not inform the governor, as Huffington Post reported. On Thursday evening, Snyder’s office released a statement to that effect.
“When Harvey Hollins received the March email, he requested the DEQ look into the concerns, check with its experts, and get the facts,” the statement said. “If the concerns were determined to be credible, the director was to bring the issue to the attention of the Governor.”
On January 13, state officials announced that 10 people died of the disease, and that it was possibly due to the Flint water crisis. And in October of 2015, Flint reverted back to its original water source as high levels of lead poisoning were detected in the blood of city children.
“Are we to believe that a top staffer with years of experience would not inform Governor Snyder of a possibly deadly situation?” said Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott in a statement.
“For months the public has been asking Governor Snyder what he knew and when he knew it regarding the Flint crisis, and this email shows that one of his top aides was aware nearly a year ago that county health officials were concerned that the switch to the Flint River could be potentially deadly,” Scott added. “If you thought it was bad last week when the administration was trucking in clean water for state employees while denying Flint residents’ claims that the water was bad, the fact that they potentially ignored information about people dying as a result of the switch is beyond comprehension.”
Scott asked if we are to believe that a top staffer with years of experience would not tell Gov. Snyder of a potentially deadly outbreak.
“Either the governor is covering up his knowledge of this crisis, or his governing culture does not allow for important information to flow from his top advisers to his desk,” he said.
“How many times is the Governor allowed to say that he didn’t know before we get to legitimately ask who the hell is running this state? This is just the latest example of why we need FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] reform to end the exemption that shields the governor’s office and legislature,” Scott continued. “Until the public is able to review all of the documents related to the Flint Water Crisis, we will not know exactly why this crisis occurred and how it can be addressed going forward. The governor needs to order the release of all of the emails related to Flint from his staff immediately.”
It is clear that early last year, Gov. Snyder knew about the troubling situation with Flint water. This comes as the Michigan Democratic Party is calling on Gov. Snyder to resign.
“There is a limit to how many times you can play dumb when it comes to events and actions that take place on your watch,” Michigan Democratic party chairman Brandon Dillon said in a statement. “Governor Snyder is attempting to employ this tactic again, claiming he wasn’t told of the connection, made almost a year before he informed the public, between Flint’s water and the legionella bacteria. This governor is either a victim of the culture of secrecy that he created or he’s lying. If he didn’t know, the incompetence is astounding. If he’s lying, the betrayal of trust is unforgivable,” Dillon said, adding that neither incompetence nor purposeful deception can be tolerated, and that Snyder cannot claim either excuse. Further, Snyder cannot be allowed to claim he is governor, Dillon suggested.
This comes as Democrats on Capitol Hill have asked Snyder to testify before a Senate hearing, to no avail. And the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the water scandal as a criminal matter.