Three officials have been criminally charged for the water contamination in the city of Flint, Michigan which brought severe water crisis in the city.
Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette filed the charges, saying it is the first step in an attempt to make officials in charge of the city accountable for their actions, which have cost the city dearly.
The three officials who will be facing the law are Mike Glasgow, Flint’s laboratory and water quality supervisor; Michael Prysby, an official with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ); and Stephen Busch, the former MDEQ Lansing district coordinator at the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance.
Flint’s water became contaminated with lead after a change in supplier in 2014. The city switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River, leading to the corrosive Flint River water causing lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply. According to residents, despite the overwhelming evidence that their water had been contaminated with lead, city and state authorities continued to argue that there was nothing wrong with it.
Nearly 100,000 residents of the city’s poor, mostly blacks, have been exposed to high levels of lead. Health experts say lead exposure can cause disabilities and behavioral problems in children. Officials switched the city’s water system, claiming to save money. However, it has wasted money, and is now threatening the lives of many people in the city. During the worst period of the crisis, residents depended on bottled water donated by benevolent individuals and organizations.
Think Progress reported that AG Schuette announced a total of 13 felony charges and five misdemeanor charges will be brought against the three officials. Glasgow faces two counts, including a felony count of tampering with evidence; signing a document saying the tested houses in Flint did indeed have lead service lines, which investigators said were false. This charge could result in four years in prison and/or a $5,000 penalty. He is also charged with a misdemeanor count of willful neglect of office, which carries a one-year sentence and/or $1,000.
Prysby and Busch both face the same six counts: felony charges of misconduct in office (five years and/or $10,000) for allegedly misleading officials of the Environmental Protection Agency, conspiracy to tamper with evidence (four years and/or $10,000), and tampering with evidence (four years and/or $5,000).Two misdemeanors for violating the state’s Safe Water Drinking Act (one year and/or $5,000 for each day of the violation for each count) are also being brought against them.
Apart from these, Prysby again was charged with a felony of misconduct in office, for giving Flint’s water treatment plant a permit knowing that it wasn’t going to provide clean drinking water, which could result in five years and/or $10,000.
Despite the charges against these three officials, residents and activists are still calling for more heads. In the past, residents marched on the streets demanding resignation of top officials in the city, including the state’s governor, Rick Snyder. Many residents still believe Snyder should have been the first to be prosecuted, and not the three officials.
At a congressional hearing on the crisis in March 2016, Governor Snyder admitted that he and his administration failed the city in the crisis. He told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in his opening address “Let me be blunt. This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials. We all failed the families of Flint.”
But members of the Committee told him that he should take full responsibility of the crisis, and not blame other officials. They urged him to do the honorable thing by resigning from office.
The Executive Director of Progress Michigan, Lonnie Scott said in a statement that investigators should also pursue Gov. Snyder in order for him to account for his actions.
“If people broke the law, they need to be held accountable. Period. The person who has continued to evade accountability in the midst of this crisis is Gov. Rick Snyder, who ushered in unaccountable emergency managers whose only focus was to cut costs at any cost… It was his administration that ushered in this crisis through policies he chose to implement and a governing culture that allowed these abuses to continue for so long,” Lonnie said.
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