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EPA should have stepped in sooner in Flint, Inspector General report finds

EPA Emergency response vehicle in Flint.
EPA Emergency response vehicle in Flint.

The EPA’s Inspector General says the agency should have issued an emergency order in Flint, Michigan seven months before it did.

The Inspector General’s investigation into the Flint water crisis found EPA Region 5 had enough information and the authority to issue an emergency order to protect Flint residents from lead-contaminated water as early as June 2015.

It was that month that EPA Region 5 officials knew about concerns raised by EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral. Del Toral had learned that the state agency overseeing Flint’s drinking water system had not required corrosion control when the city switched water sources a year earlier. Corrosion control chemicals coat the interior of water distribution pipes. Without those chemicals, lead leached from the pipes into Flint residents' tap water.

EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins says the EPA needs "a greater sense of urgency" to "intervene when the safety of drinking water is compromised."

During a congressional hearing in March, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy claimed the agency urged state officials to act quickly to implement stronger corrosion control, but said state officials “slow-walked” the recommendations.

From the report:

... EPA Region 5 did not intervene under SDWA Section 1431, the conditions in Flint persisted, and the state continued to delay taking action to require corrosion control or provide alternative drinking water supplies ... These situations should generate a greater sense of urgency. We are issuing a management alert report on this matter to promote awareness and facilitate immediate EPA action

The Inspector General issued the report to “alert the EPA about factors that delayed its intervention using emergency authority under Section 1431 of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).”

The report says the agency should update guidance to the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance to clarify when the agency can exercise “emergency authority.” The report also recommends that all enforcement staff be trained on what authority they have under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA IG investigation is ongoing. The agency says it expects to issue another report once their work concludes.

The office released this video along with the report:

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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