Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced the first criminal charges against public employees in connection with the Flint water crisis, which resulted in lead leaching into the water supply. The state is charging two people from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and one city employee with a number of crimes related to negligence and covering up of this tragedy.
In an effort to save money for the financially-strapped city in 2014, it was decided that Flint to stop getting water from Lake Huron by way of Detroit's water system 70 miles away, and instead source it from the nearby Flint River. Though conservation efforts have made the once-polluted river a suitable water source, anti-corrosive chemicals were supposed to be added to the water to preserve the city's aging water pipes.
As a result, lead began seeping into the water, putting thousands of children at risk for the irreversible harm of lead poisoning. While it is bad enough that it happened in the first place, state officials continued to downplay the dangers until findings from an independent survey made it impossible to ignore.
Though Flint has been switched back to the water from Detroit, the damage to the infrastructure has already been done and the water entering homes and businesses continues to be hazardous. Residents of the city have been relying on filters and bottles of water for months and must continue to do so until pipes can be replaced city-wide, which will require an incredible amount of time and money.
Around the state and even across the country, many are calling for justice for those citizens who have been harmed by the water in Flint. Schuette's office began an investigation in January and has now announced the first felony charges against those at fault.
The two MDEQ employees, district supervisor Stephen Busch and district engineer Michael Prysby are both being charged with misconduct in office (possible 5 year prison sentence), tampering with evidence of water lead levels (possible 4 year sentence), conspiracy to tamper with evidence (possible 4 year sentence), and a misdemeanor violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act by not using the anti-corrosive measures required.
"These employees of the Department of Environmental Quality had a duty. They had a duty to protect the health of families and citizens of Flint. They failed," Schuette emphatically announced at the press conference. "They failed Michigan families. Indeed, they failed us all, and I don't care where you live."
Flint's utility manager Michael Glasgow is being charged with tampering with evidence by altering and falsifying lead level test results and willful neglect of duty.
As the investigation is ongoing, more people could be charged in the future. Additionally, some who choose to cooperate with the state investigation may be able to avoid criminal charges. Many are wondering if Governor Rick Snyder will also be held accountable, as e-mails do link him to being aware of the problem before the people of Flint were told to stop drinking their water.
Schuette also said he hopes this will help rebuild trust between the people pf Flint and their government.
While there is no way to truly make up for the damage that the people of Flint have suffered, prosecuting those who played a role in this crisis is a good place to start.
"These charges are only the beginning and there will be more to come," Schuette said. "And that I can guarantee you."
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