POLITICS

EPA Official Says 'False Allegations' Forced Her Resignation Over Flint Water Crisis

Susan Hedman says "there wasn't time" for a fuller explanation of her actions before now.
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Chairman Rep. Jason C
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) at a hearing in February. The committee is now holding hearings on the Flint water crisis.

The Environmental Protection Agency official who resigned in the wake of the Flint water crisis blamed "false allegations" for her downfall.

In testimony before a congressional committee on Tuesday, Susan Hedman said stories in The Huffington Post and other outlets misrepresented her actions as the EPA administrator for the midwest region. 

"By the third week of January," she said in prepared remarks, "I was widely portrayed in the media as someone who 'sat on the sidelines during the crisis' and 'downplayed concerns raised by an EPA scientist about lead in the water.'"

An EPA scientist named Miguel Del Toral wrote an alarming memo in June 2015 warning that Flint's failure to treat its drinking water correctly had resulted in high lead levels in the city's water. Asked about the memo by Flint's mayor at the time, Dayne Walling, Hedman said it was a "preliminary draft report that should not have been released outside the agency." The mayor subsequently said the report's author didn't speak for the agency. State officials claimed the memo had been the work of a "rogue employee."

After that, the EPA said little about the alarming report. State officials didn't tell Flint residents to stop drinking the water until last October, after a local pediatrician reported that Flint kids had elevated lead levels in their blood. 

In a January interview, Hedman told HuffPost the EPA stayed quiet about the memo because it contained identifying information about a private citizen whose children had been exposed to lead. 

"It seemed the best course of action for us at the time was not to talk about the report per se," she said. 

In her testimony, Hedman repeated essentially the same thing she said in January, saying she had demanded that state officials issue a private apology to Del Toral for the "rogue employee" comment.

"There wasn’t time for these explanations in January, in the wake of all the emergency declarations," she said. "Flint residents had lost trust in governmental institutions -- and the false allegations about me gave the people of Flint less reason to trust EPA." 

That said, Hedman acknowledged her resignation wasn't solely prompted by the purported false allegations.

"That was one reason for my resignation, but there was another: Quite simply, this tragedy happened on my watch," she said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House oversight committee, said in his opening remarks Tuesday that Hedman had dismissed lead concerns and that she "rightfully" resigned.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech civil engineering professor who helped expose high lead levels in Flint as well as Hedman's emails downplaying the June memo that warned about them, joined Hedman at the witness table -- and said she deserved blame for the crisis.

"She allowed Flint children to be harmed," Edwards said. 

At the end of the hearing, HuffPost asked Walling, Flint's former mayor, whether it was fair to say Hedman's July email had been an effort to downplay lead fears raised in Del Toral's report.

"The communication was pretty straightforward and clear," he said.

This story has been updated to include comment from Walling. 

HuffPost

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