POLITICS

Gov. Rick Snyder Releases Emails Related To Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said during his State of the State address Tuesday night that he'd release emails relating to t
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said during his State of the State address Tuesday night that he'd release emails relating to the city of Flint. He did. 

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on Wednesday released a trove of emails related to the Flint water crisis, something Snyder promised during his State of the State address. 

The governor's office posted on its website nearly 300 pages of emails from 2014 and 2015 that mentioned Flint, where the water has been unsafe to drink because of high lead levels. The emails are available for download HERE

Snyder has previously declined to say when he became aware that Flint had a lead-in-water crisis. The emails released Wednesday don't definitively answer that question, but suggest it was probably sometime around September. Word of other problems with Flint's water hit Snyder's inbox in 2014. 

Snyder said during his speech Tuesday he'd release the emails "so that you have answers to your questions about what we’ve done and what we’re doing to make this right for the families of Flint."

A February 2015 email to Snyder contained background on Flint's water situation from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the state's top water regulator, mostly addressing advisories related to bacteria and chemical treatment byproducts that popped up in Flint's water. Flint residents had been complaining about the taste and color of their water since the city, which was under the control of a Snyder-appointed emergency manager, switched from Detroit's water system to the Flint River as its water source in April 2014. 

"Hard water can react with cast iron and exacerbates the rusty factor, which creates that brown water that angry residents were holding up in jugs for the media cameras last week," the memo said. It went on to note that "discoloration is not an indicator of water quality or water safety, but we recognize that nobody likes it."

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech corrosion expert, told HuffPost that discoloration should be alarming, particularly to people responsible for water treatment.

"Discoloration can certainly be a sign of water quality and water safety," Edwards said.

Edwards began his own effort to test Flint water samples in August, and warned in early September that the water would have high lead levels because of its corrosiveness and the fact that Flint has a lot of lead pipes. 

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency memo documenting high lead levels in Flint homes and expressing concern over the state's failure to ensure Flint's water wouldn't corrode city pipes had been reported by the American Civil Liberties Union in July. But the EPA told city and state officials the memo was a draft that shouldn't have been released. That month, a top Snyder aide expressed concern that local residents' water woes weren't being taken seriously.

On Sept. 5, Snyder asked about the distribution of water filters to a group of Flint pastors who had been asked not to disclose where they'd gotten the filters. An aide responded that Flint residents appreciated the filters and wanted more. 

Snyder's then-chief of staff Dennis Muchmore wrote on Sept. 25 that he didn't understand why people were blaming state agencies for Flint's water problems, but noted that former state Treasurer Andy Dillon "did make the ultimate decision [to change Flint's water source] so we're not able to avoid the subject." Muchmore said he wasn't sure how much more information Snyder wanted, but could provide more. 

The next day, Muchmore noted rising concerns about lead, but said "DEQ and DHHS and EPA can't find evidence of a major change." Muchmore forwarded Snyder a memo from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services casting doubt a local pediatrician's reports of high blood lead levels in Flint kids. 

Emails previously uncovered by Edwards through Freedom of Information Act requests showed DHHS was aware of high blood lead levels in Flint children in July, but believed they were the result of normal seasonal variation. In October, state government ultimately confirmed an increase in the number of Flint kids with elevated blood lead levels after the city's water switch. The government warned Flint residents not to drink their water, and Snyder approved reconnecting Flint to Detroit's water system. 

Lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage and stunted growth in children. 

Melanie McElroy, executive director of advocacy group Common Cause Michigan, preemptively criticized Snyder's email dump on Tuesday, saying the governor's office shouldn't be exempt from Freedom of Information laws.

“Picking and choosing the emails that he wants the public to see is not accountability," McElroy said.

Email arthur@huffingtonpost.com if you read anything in the governor's emails you think may be newsworthy.

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