EXCLUSIVE: Flint Water Declared ‘Restored’ After Michigan’s Environmental Agency Broke EPA Testing Regulations
Update November 27th, 2018: During the week of November 5th, Status Coup returned to Flint and knocked on nearly 50 more doors in Flint to look further into Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s [MDEQ]lead and copper testing (which pushed the total number of homes canvassed to 450).
During that canvassing, Status Coup found four additional homes where flushing occurred directly before lead and copper samples were collected—a violation of the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule. With the four additional homes Status Coup found testing violations in, the total number of homes Status Coup found EPA testing violations occurred in reached 35.
In three of the four homes, the flushing was done by the residents, who were following the improper instructions provided to them from CORE officials (Flint residents trained by MDEQ officials) to run their water right before taking a lead and copper sample. In the fourth home, CORE officials themselves entered and flushed the resident’s water line right before testing.
“They let it run for 2–3 minutes and then took the sample,” Martease Benton told Status Coup.
The 50 additional homes Status Coup canvassed were on the state sentinel program, which was the official group of homes MDEQ used to claim Flint was again meeting EPA regulations for lead in water. The sentinel homes were the main data pool that resulted in Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declaring Flint’s water “restored” and, as a result, shutting down the city’s remaining free water pods.
One of these additional four homes belonged to Flint Pastor Herbert Miller, who followed instructions provided to him to run the water right before collecting samples. On top of that violation, Miller’s home has a full filtration system in place throughout the house, which is problematic: sentinel study homes are supposed to be tested without filters to see what water lead levels are straight from the tap without going through a filter.
When she opened her door on Dale Avenue in Flint on a simmering hot June afternoon, Amanda Jaynes mirrored her sick, reeling city left barely standing in the wake of deindustrialization, gentrification, and a water crisis that never truly ended.
For the majority of her life, Jaynes, 34, had lived without any health problems. Now, the mother of three, head void of hair, was visibly struggling to stand on her porch. Chemotherapy was the culprit, and Jaynes was homebound and unable to work while caring for three young children as her husband worked round the clock. Her youngest, like a significant number of children in Flint, had developed a learning disability experts say could be linked to the lead in the water.
Jaynes had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and spots on her kidney. She and her children’s lives have dramatically changed in the aftermath of drinking the water in Flint for well over a year after the state of Michigan switched the city from Detroit’s water to the heavily contaminated and corrosive Flint River.
Jaynes’ story, and countless others Status Coup uncovered, are part of the silent crisis that has persisted in Flint long after media cameras left.
“Restored” In Flint
In April, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared that Flint’s water was “restored” and safe for consumption. This announcement came four years after the water supply for Flint was switched from Lake Huron via Detroit Water and Sewage to the Flint River. Proper corrosion control chemicals were not added into the water supply, causing lead to leach off the underground pipes and ravage the city’s water supply — and poison its residents.
As part of Snyder’s announcement, he shut down the remaining state-sponsored free water “pods” scattered around the city, which distributed free bottled water to the city’s impoverished residents for years after the toxic water switch. But many residents distrusted the official declaration that the water was safe, as might be expected after a scandal so severe that state officials have been hit with manslaughter charges relating to the deaths of residents.
After an in-depth investigation, which included speaking with over 140 residents in Flint this summer, Status Coup found residents’ distrust to be well-founded. Officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and Flint workers with the Community Outreach Resident Education [CORE] program — the latter trained by the former — ran residents’ water before taking lead and copper samples, or instructed residents to do so when sampling themselves at home, in at least 31 Flint homes that were part of the data pool Michigan used to declare Flint’s water was again meeting EPA regulations for water lead levels.
The EPA’s “action level” for lead, which is the level where state and local environmental agencies are required to take action to lower levels, is 15 parts per billion. That level is not a public health measurement — experts say no level of lead is safe — but instead a corrosion control measurement.
The practice of running water right before sampling, known as flushing, is a violation of EPA regulations for water sampling because it artificially lowers lead levels, allowing time for large quantities of lead, copper, and other heavy metals to “flush” out of the system. The EPA mandates that lead water samples be taken after water is stagnant for at least six hours and that samples be taken as a “first draw,” meaning right after the tap is turned on. These are regulations that MDEQ and other state environmental agencies are obligated to follow.
“You’re Going to Get More Bottles and Do it Like I Did”
“15 to 30 seconds or more,” Jaynes told Status Coup about the amount of time an MDEQ official who came to her home ran her water before beginning to fill up the sample bottle. When he left, he instructed her on how she should sample in subsequent tests she would conduct herself for the state sentinel testing program.
“You’re going to get more bottles and do it like I did,” the official told her.
With no reason to second guess what the official told her, Jaynes followed the improper instructions for samples she took herself, which experts and the EPA agree runs the risk of artificially lowering lead levels to a level they wouldn’t be at under normal circumstances (most people don’t run their water before drinking from the tap).
In early 2016, the test done by MDEQ at her home came back lead-free, so she continued drinking the water without a filter (one wouldn’t fit on her sink’s faucet), assuming the water was safe. A few months later, a lump was found on her right thyroid lobe.
Doctors prescribed medication since her immune system was too weak for a biopsy. A month after that, a spot was detected on her kidney. Three months later, Jaynes was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It was only then that she began to distrust her drinking water, she told Status Coup.
Jaynes’ home was part of the sentinel data pool, which was the official testing group of homes selected by state officials to continually test in the years after the Flint water crisis became a national scandal. MDEQ and the state repeatedly used sentinel homes as its measuring stick to claim Flint’s water lead levels were improving, and ultimately, falling back below the EPA’s lead “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb).
Of the 31 sentinel homes where residents reported to Status Coup that flushing occurred, 17 recounted MDEQ or CORE officials arriving at their homes and flushing before sampling themselves.
The remaining 14 sentinel residents told Status Coup they flushed before samples they took based on verbal instructions to do so provided to them by MDEQ or CORE officials. Many of these residents on the sentinel program that Status Coup spoke to sampled several times over months, and in some cases years (the sentinel program began in 2016 and continued through this year; it had ten continual rounds over that time).
This was a violation of EPA regulations, the EPA confirmed to Status Coup.
“Lead and Copper tap samples used to determine compliance with the LCR must be collected as one-liter, first-draw samples after the water has stood motionless in the plumbing system for at least six hours,” an EPA spokesperson told Status Coup.
But Michigan’s testing violations weren’t limited to the improper flushing in homes Status Coup uncovered. The EPA also said that Michigan state personnel were not supposed to be sampling for residents for testing meant to comply with EPA lead regulations.
“Water systems leave the sample with the residents and the residents collect the compliance samples,” the spokesperson told Status Coup, meaning MDEQ and CORE officials were not supposed to enter homes and take samples for Flint residents in the first place.
Miscarriages & Misery
Nakiya Wakes, 42, blames the lead-contaminated Flint water for her miscarriage of twins in 2015, along with her nine-year-old son’s severe misbehavior and her 19-year-old daughter’s hair loss and reading comprehension problems. In 2016, the CDC, EPA, and MDEQ came to her home to test her water after Wakes had complained of its quality. As several other sentinel home residents recalled to Status Coup, MDEQ officials offered Wakes a gift card in exchange for her participation in the sentinel program.
“When they first came in, I noticed that they ran the water in the kitchen [before sampling],” she told Status Coup. “I was standing right here, me and my kids, when they were running it in the kitchen, and it was like for a minute or two.”
That flushed test produced 2 ppb of lead, well under the EPA’s 15 ppb action level. Despite an MDEQ official taking the sample, the paperwork listed Wakes as having collected it.
When asked which officials MDEQ sent to Wakes’ home in early February 2016, an MDEQ spokesperson said: “The department’s records do not indicate that a state official collected the samples.”
“That’s a lie,” Wakes emphatically told Status Coup, reiterating that she and her children stood watching the officials flushing before sampling. “I was at work, and my kids called me and let them in,” Wakes said, adding that she came right home. “I don’t know why they’re lying.”
Status Coup followed up with MDEQ several times with a simple yes or no question: did the agency send officials to Ms. Wakes’ home in February 2016 to collect lead water samples? The agency refused to answer, simply repeating the response that their records indicate the resident took the sample. If they admitted to Status Coup it did send officials, MDEQ would be admitting it went against the protocol the EPA laid out to Status Coup, which, again, was that MDEQ was supposed to leave test kits for residents to take the samples themselves.
Wakes’ home also serves as a good example of how MDEQ’s flushed sampling manipulated lead levels by artificially lowering them. MDEQ’s flushed test in her kitchen sink from February 2016 produced 2 ppb, but when the EPA tested the water from that same kitchen sink two months later — without flushing — 85 ppb of lead were found.
Wakes miscarried a second set of twins in October 2017.
“I don’t even think I can carry babies anymore because of consuming all of this lead and heavy metals and other bacteria that was up in this water,” Wakes told Status Coup. “I don’t believe nothing about my eggs are too old, I just don’t believe that. It was the water.”
“Flushing is Cheating” -Erin Brockovich
Legendary environmental and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich didn’t hesitate when informed of Status Coup’s investigation and findings.
“The only reason to do this would be to obtain a clear sample and report false information,” she said, calling for criminal prosecution of officials that improperly flushed water before sampling. She also demanded citywide retesting to begin — and for the reopening of the free water pods the governor shuttered.
“Falsifying a federal and state regulatory compliance test: that is a crime,” she said. Brockovich also noted that, in light of these falsified tests, it’s not possible, as has been done by many media outlets, to claim thousands of other cities have higher water lead levels than Flint since Flint’s real water lead numbers are now in question.
Brockovich, who visited Flint during the crisis in 2016, condemned the flushed testing Status Coup uncovered, describing it as Michigan “cheating.”
“Flushing before a first draw sample is a violation. The entire purpose of testing the first draw is to detect how much lead and copper have leached into the water overnight… once it is flushed out, it defeats the purpose of a test. Flushing is cheating.”
She added that, based on Status Coup’s findings, all of the state’s Flint water testing should be tossed out. “The sample set is representative of at least some not testing properly, and therefore the entire sample set should be invalidated,” she said. “Without ensuring proper training and compliance, one must assume all of the samples are not valid.”
An EPA spokesperson told Status Coup that “running the water right before collecting a sample could result in a change in the amount of metals in the sample, though this would depend on the plumbing materials in the home and whether the home is served by a lead service line, as well as other factors.”
In light of its regulations prohibiting flushing, and the EPA telling Status Coup Michigan state officials weren’t supposed to be collecting sentinel samples themselves, Status Coup repeatedly asked the EPA if the agency had been aware state officials were improperly entering the homes of residents on the sentinel program and collecting samples. The agency didn’t respond.
The EPA also declined to answer repeated follow-up questions on whether, as a result of these flushing violations, Michigan had cheated on Flint water lead testing or whether the rest of MDEQ’s Flint’s testing data needs to be investigated.
MDEQ’s own sampling instruction video cautioned against flushing water before sampling: “Remember, do not flush any water from the faucet before you take the sample.” Written instructions provided to some residents also instructed to take the water sample right after turning the tap on following a six-hour stagnation period.
“A Disregard of Citizen Health”
CORE workers were Flint residents hired by MDEQ to go around Flint during the water crisis and help residents apply water filters and drop off/pick up water lead samples residents took. Shucon Hall, a CORE program educator, who has both gone into residents’ homes and worked for the program from Flint City Hall, told Status Coup she had received complaints from Flint residents expressing they were instructed to flush their water before collecting their lead samples.
“I have heard numerous people come in to drop off water test kits and say that, but that’s hearsay, I can’t validate that, I can’t say that that person is saying something accurately because they say things all the time, and, truthfully it’s just a terrible situation because sometimes people don’t listen thoroughly,” Hall said.
She continued: “There’s times people have thought I said that [to flush their water before sampling], because now I’m stationed at City Hall, and I dispersed the water testing kit and people have brought them back thinking that I have said something like that because they were misinformed or didn’t listen correctly or didn’t read the instructions.”
When asked one more time for confirmation that she has received complaints from residents about being provided improper instructions, Hall said: “Yes, I have heard that before.” She also said that in her two years with the CORE program, she wasn’t personally told to flush residents’ water before collecting lead samples in their homes.
Dr. Laura Sullivan, a mechanical engineering professor at Kettering University in Flint, was appointed by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee [FWICC], a committee created by Governor Snyder to bring together a wide array of experts for “long-term solutions to the Flint water situation.”
Sullivan told Status Coup she had fielded complaints from residents about state officials entering their homes and flushing their water before sampling.
“It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, I’ve heard that a lot from residents,” Sullivan said regarding residents telling her their water had been flushed before samples were taken. She added that she wasn’t personally surprised that “that group of individuals” [state of Michigan officials] would violate testing regulations, but that the general public who depends on state officials to ensure safety would be surprised.
“We’ve had so much of what seems at best incompetence and, at worse, disregard of citizen health and citizen safety and citizen confidence,” Sullivan concluded.
“This Was illegally Done”
Fredrick Quincy Jones, a Flint resident whose home was also on the sentinel program, knew something was wrong when MDEQ and CORE officials ran his water for three minutes before sampling. A former Navy medic, one of Jones’ responsibilities was making sure EPA regulations were met on board ships and other commands.
“I know they violated the process, of course,” he told Status Coup. “This was illegally done, the results were falsified.”
Jones let officials improperly run his waster for a little while before questioning why sampling was being done this way: “I knew better, I was going to see what they were going to do. I’m one of those types of citizens — I’m not stupid. So when you do pop the question, all of a sudden they get tight-lipped.” And the longtime Flint resident thinks it’s possible the improper testing was pervasive across the city.
“I would not be surprised at all,” he told Status Coup.
Flint Residents Have “Some Confusion” — State of Michigan to Status Coup
In response to Status Coup’s investigation, MDEQ denied our findings, claiming there were many different types of tests that occurred in Flint — by many different agencies and academic institutions — and that the residents who were reporting flushing in their homes by state officials were simply having “some confusion” regarding the type of testing that occurred in their homes.
But our investigation found this response to be highly doubtful. From the beginning of the crisis, state officials cited the sentinel study as its official focus group of homes that Flint’s water lead levels would be measured by in relation to EPA lead regulations. There were indeed other forms of sampling conducted by the EPA in Flint, as well as outside universities. However, the latter were not official EPA regulatory compliance studies. The sentinel homes, however, were used for EPA regulatory compliance, meaning these homes’ data were used to determine whether the EPA’s lead compliance level of 15 ppb was met.
The way the EPA measures whether cities and water utilities are meeting its lead regulatory threshold is if the 90th percentile of Tier 1 samples (homes most at risk for lead contamination) are below 15 ppb for lead. In a litany of MDEQ declarations depicting an improving water lead situation in Flint, the state agency cited sentinel home data as its measuring stick for Flint’s lead levels improving, and then ultimately, falling below the EPA’s lead “action” level of 15 ppb.
As such, based on the EPA’s confirmation that samples taken for lead and copper compliance must not be flushed beforehand — and must be taken right after the tap is turned on — the flushing that went on in these sentinel homes was not a case of “confusion” on the parts of residents — unless dozens of residents on the state’s official EPA regulatory compliance study imagined state officials entering their homes and flushing their water before sampling — or telling them to do so themselves.
Governor Snyder’s office also suggested Status Coup’s findings might be indicative of residents being confused. “It is possible that people were not clearly informed of what type of testing was being done or for what exact purpose.”
Again, our investigation found this to be doubtful. Status Coup independently confirmed that the residents we spoke to were part of the state sentinel program, where again, flushing is not permitted.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who strongly opposed Snyder’s decision to close Flint’s water pods, expressed serious concern in response to Status Coup’s findings.
“We take these allegations very seriously,” Weaver said in a statement. “We have and continue to ask for clarity and transparency in protocols used by the State of Michigan to declare the safety of our water quality.”
During the reporting process, which Status Coup began over the summer, we first knocked on doors that had the highest documented lead levels at the peak of the crisis. It was initially difficult to find homes tested as part of the sentinel study because MDEQ’s website with water testing results only provides street names for sentinel homes — not house numbers.
But, midway through our investigation, Status Coup was able to obtain full sentinel addresses from Pierre Goovaerts, a geostatistician who conducted a research study on the state’s water testing and found significant sampling bias by MDEQ in the form of testing homes less likely to be at risk for lead contamination.
His findings weren’t the first time MDEQ has been shown to manipulate water lead sampling: in 2008, after a Detroit lead sample came back at 115 ppb, an MDEQ official suggested collecting more samples and to “bump this one out.” In 2015, MDEQ officials, in an effort to keep Flint’s average water lead level from raising eyebrows, instructed a Flint water utility worker to remove two high lead tests from his Flint water lead sampling report. And to avoid EPA scrutiny or intervention, MDEQ lied to the EPA in 2015, claiming it had implemented the proper corrosion control into Flint’s water supply after the switch to the Flint River. Of course, it hadn’t, which is what caused toxic Flint River to become so acidic, lead leached off the water distribution pipes and into the water.
“I Have No Faith In Anything”
Amanda Jaynes, who you met earlier in this story, was told by her doctor her cancer may have started in her kidney and spread to the thyroid.
“They don’t know; it still hasn’t been diagnosed,” she said about the spot on her right kidney, which hasn’t been biopsied yet because of her weak immune system and the complicating factor of her allergy to CT-dye.
The cause of her cancer is unknown, but Donald A. Fox, an internationally recognized toxicologist who’s taught toxicology and pharmacology for 40 years, told Status Coup that some of the toxins Flint residents were exposed to can lead to kidney and thyroid problems like Jaynes has. He explained that the brain and blood are the first parts of the body to be affected by lead, while kidneys can also be impacted at “higher blood lead concentrations.”
Recently, it was revealed that Michigan state officials were aware of high levels of Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl [PFOA or PFAS] chemicals in the Flint River before switching to it as the city’s primary drinking water source. But it seems the state didn’t relay this to Flint city officials before officially switching to the Flint River in April 2014 (the state says those chemicals were found downstream from Flint and didn’t affect Flint). These chemicals, used in the manufacturing of non-stick cookware, have been shown to cause cancer, thyroid, and liver damage. In February 2017, DuPont and Chemours paid a $671 million settlement for thousands of lawsuits filed against them for PFOA contamination in the Ohio River Valley.
On whether exposure to PFOA could have affected Jaynes’ thyroid, Fox told us: “PFAs in humans are associated with changes in thyroid function. The link with cancer in humans is not established. Animal studies have suggested this, but the extrapolation to man is not certain.”
Jaynes remains too sick to work or care for her children. Her husband, in addition to a 60-hour work week, takes care of Amanda and the kids. In September, she lost twelve pounds in four days; her remaining thyroid lobe is so deficient, she’s had little appetite for food or water. She awaits the removal of her left lobe, which will leave her on medication for the remainder of her life. Jaynes told Status Coup she’s hoping that, after her other lobe is removed, she gets on a new treatment plan and makes a full recovery.
“The government is a joke,” Jaynes said. “At this point, I have no faith in anything. They have let us all down, and on top of that, they make us pay for crappy water, and if you don’t pay them, they just come and shut you off. After all they have done to us, they deny us fresh, clean water that is everyone’s human right.”
Flushing in Flint Is…Not New
The state of Michigan already had an issue with pre-flushing, which is when water lines are flushed the night before a morning test. In early 2016, after initially resisting the EPA’s suggestions to stop, Michigan stopped instructing residents to pre-flush before sampling for lead and copper.
The flushing that sentinel home residents reported to Status Coup was not pre-flushing the night before; it was flushing done on the same day, right before samples were taken. This results in even less accurate lead results.
Although not directly outlawed by the EPA, the agency cautions against pre-flushing due to its potential to artificially lower the amount of lead detected in a sample (the EPA does outlaw flushing right before collecting a regulatory compliance sample). In 2015, EPA whistleblower Miguel Del Toral sounded the alarm in an email obtained by FOIA about Flint city officials distorting lead numbers by pre-flushing.
Del Toral warned that Flint, which at the time was conducting its own water testing before MDEQ took over, was “flushing away the evidence” and bordering on “criminal neglect.” Status Coup’s investigation found direct day of flushing right before samples were drawn, which has an even more manipulating effect on lead detection than pre-flushing the night before.
“That’s a Big Problem”
Harold Harrington, a plumber who went into homes when the water crisis first broke to identify whether they were connected to lead service lines, agreed sentinel homes Status Coup found flushing in violated EPA regulations.
“They’re not supposed to run it [the water] at all; if they’re doing that, that’s against the Lead and Copper Rule from what I’ve been told,” he told me.
Harrington, who was featured in NBC News and Rachel Maddow’s 2016 coverage of the water crisis, explained that by running water, even for 30 seconds to a minute or two before sampling, you’re flushing lead out that could be sitting in a home’s interior plumbing and fixtures along with the service lines coming from the yard into the home.
“That’s a big problem because the fixtures themselves contain lead; a lot of older fixtures have a lot of lead in them and if you flush them you are getting rid of that lead also,” he said.
In water sampling he conducted in Flint, Harrington has found a lot of the lead had resulted from the homes’ interior plumbing and fixtures’ coating — coating meant to prevent lead from leaching into the water — being completely removed rather than simply being corroded.
This occurred because the Flint River water wasn’t treated properly with corrosion control chemicals; as a result, the water’s pH levels were significantly off and acidic. “It’s like running a cleaner through these pipes that exposed all the lead,” Harrington concluded.
For further insight into the drastic effect flushing can have on lowering lead levels, a 2004 DC Water and Sewage [WASA] study is instructive. When the agency flushed water for 10 minutes before sampling, it eliminated 95 percent of lead, a Washington Post article reported. WASA tested 96 homes with lead levels over 300 parts per billion and found that after flushing for ten minutes, the median lead level was 13 parts per billion. The highest number was 65 ppb.
“What Happens If the Next Seizure is a More Severe Stroke?”
Despite having no history of seizures or strokes, Cynthia Hollis, 57, came down with a seizure disorder after the water switch. Her doctors had difficulty diagnosing it but treated her as if she had epilepsy. Her last seizure resulted in a stroke, leaving Hollis fearful for the future. “I’m afraid,” she told Status Coup. “What happens if the next seizure is a more severe stroke?”
She drank tap water for months after the water switch before stopping when problems became evident. She said officials from Flint’s CORE program (who were trained by MDEQ) came to her home, which was on the sentinel program, and ran water for “30 seconds to a minute” before sampling. They also told her to flush for a few minutes before sampling herself, which she did. The results were high in copper, but always low for lead.
Beyond the 31 sentinel homes Status Coup found flushing violations occurred in, we also found ten non-sentinel homes where MDEQ or CORE officials ran water before sampling. Although residential samples were different than sentinel homes, the state added these samples, alongside sentinel samples, on many occasions as evidence Flint was again meeting EPA lead regulations.
Beyond these flushed residential homes, from January to the end of June of this year, there were still a significant number of residential samples in Flint testing at above the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion. Status Coup presumes these elevated samples did not have flushing occur, but can’t confirm that.
“All of a Sudden These Lead Levels Were Really Low”
Bernard Meader, a 64-year-old Korean War veteran who lives on Carrill Ct in Flint, told us MDEQ officials ran his water in May for 30 seconds before sampling. The result: 2 ppb of lead, well under the EPA’s lead action level of 15 ppb.
Meader’s visit from MDEQ happened as a result of Status Coup’s reporting; we’d contacted MDEQ about Meader’s home in May, asking about his March 2016 lead sample, which resulted in an astronomical 11,886 ppb of lead. We asked why, according to the state’s online map of Flint water tests, Meader’s home had never been retested after that result. MDEQ responded that the agency would “follow up with him.”
They did: the next day, on a Saturday. Not only did the two MDEQ officials sent to Meader’s home improperly flush his water before sampling, but Meader said he had previously been instructed by CORE workers in early 2016 to run his water for two to three minutes before sampling. He didn’t follow those instructions for the majority of the samples he took, but he did for one test in 2017; the numbers fell, from 27 ppb without flushing down to 11 ppb when he flushed.
“All of a sudden these lead levels were really low. I still don’t believe that they’re that low,” he told Status Coup.
For the most recent sample MDEQ took at Meader’s home in May, the field that normally includes the name of the person who collected the sample was left blank.
MDEQ responded to Status Coup by providing us the names of the three officials they sent to Meader’s home the day after we contacted them. Two of them, Derek Timmermann and Frank Caballero, are MDEQ employees. A third, Ja’Riel Booth, is not listed as a state employee.
The agency declined to answer why they provided three names when Meader says only two were at his home that day. They also declined repeated follow-ups on why the names of the officials who flushed at Meader’s home were left off the test results paperwork, simply saying that residents fill out the paperwork.
Replacing Rick Snyder
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is the Republican nominee for Governor in an election five days from now, has charged 15 state officials with water crisis-related charges, including involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and misconduct in office.
In response to the violations Status Coup uncovered, Schuette’s campaign spokesperson said: “Flint families do not trust the water coming from their tap and Bill doesn’t blame them for that. As governor, Bill will carefully review new information like yours to ensure the damage to Flint is repaired as soon as possible.”
His opponent for Governor, former state senator Gretchen Whitmer, said she would get to the bottom of Status Coup’s findings if elected. “This is extremely distressing information and, if true, another breach of trust in a community with few reasons to trust state government. As governor, I’m committed to getting to the bottom of this, finally cleaning up the drinking water, and earning back the trust of the people of Flint.”
Waiting For Bottled Water Four Years Later
Like other residents we spoke to, Colleen Ballard, 58, has been physically and mentally damaged by the water crisis. She has lost almost all her teeth after the water switch and has had severe stomach problems, blood loss, hair loss, and rashes.
When she tested her water for the first time in 2016, the results came back at an alarming 9,416 ppb of lead. MDEQ came out to test twice in 2017.
“They let the water run first for about ten minutes and then, after that, they took the sample,” she said. “Same thing for the bathroom.” After her lead service line was replaced in 2017, MDEQ came back to test a few days later. “It was the same thing, run the water first.” MDEQ officials told Ballard her lead levels were going down, but she didn’t believe it: “I don’t trust them at all.”
Congressman Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint, echoed Brockovich’s call for free bottled water service to be restarted in Flint.
“Flint families still do not trust their drinking water because they were lied to by the state of Michigan, who told them their drinking water was fine when it was not,” Kildee told Status Coup, calling for free bottled water until all of Flint’s lead pipes are replaced.
Michigan State Senator Jim Ananich, a Democrat who represents Flint, was not surprised by our findings.
“I have long been suspicious that the people of Flint have never been told the truth about what happened here,” he told Status Coup. “The Governor is more concerned with appearances than addressing the problem. This is a public health crisis. People died. These reports are extremely troubling, and we deserve to know what really happened.”
The EPA’s Inspector General issued a report in July calling for the federal agency to issue stronger oversight of Michigan drinking water programs, and state and local officials, going forward to avoid another “catastrophic situation” like the Flint water crisis.
Snyder Stands By “Restored” Declaration
It was Michigan’s top official, Governor Snyder, who foreshadowed hope two-and-a-half years ago when he said the “buck stops with him” and “I’ll fix it” in response to the water crisis. Since then, over 20 million dollars of taxpayer-funded money has been spent on the criminal defense of officials from his administration that have been charged with crimes related to the water crisis. To date, no charges have been filed against Snyder.
“The Governor’s statement [on Flint’s water being “restored”] was based on the best available information provided by state, federal and third-party analysis and he stands by it,” his spokesperson told Status Coup.
While Snyder stands by his declaration — despite dozens of sentinel study residents reporting flushing violations in their homes — Flint continues to reel four-and-a-half years into this crisis.
To this day, residents line up in their cars when a local church gets enough donated water bottles to offer to citizens. Residents Status Coup met in line in July waited for three to five hours to receive a few cases of bottled water. Of the many we spoke to on that line, the majority of residents said they were there for donated water because they didn’t believe the state’s declarations that Flint’s water is now drinkable.
Hope and No Change
Ballard, who’s lived in the same home for 42 years, is eager to move away from Flint. “I used to smile a lot, I used to talk a lot, now I don’t go nowhere,” she said.
Embarrassed by her missing teeth and frail physical appearance, she tells people she’s from Genesee County rather than Flint. When asked if she believes the government will ever fix what it broke in Flint, Ballard responded with what seemed like all of Flint’s physical and mental anguish.
“I lost all hope a long time ago.”
Journalist and President of Status Coup Jenn Dize reported extensively as part of this investigation.