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Federal prosecutors looking into Flint's water crisis

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Flint’s contaminated drinking water is now the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

Gina Balaya is a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan. She confirmed the investigation today. 

“(The U.S. Attorney’s office) is working closely with the EPA” on the investigation "to address the concerns of Flint residents," says Balaya.  

She declined to comment further on the investigation.

People in Flint were exposed to high lead levels in their drinking water after the city started getting tap water from its namesake river in 2014.  The city failed to add chemicals to reduce the corrosiveness of the Flint River.  The river water eventually damaged pipes, including thousands of transmission lines connecting Flint homes to the city’s water main. The damaged pipes leached lead into the drinking water. 

Last summer, independent researchers confirmed rising lead levels in the drinking water and in the blood of Flint children. At first, state officials downplayed the alarming reports. Later, state officials agreed to work with Flint to return the city to Detroit water.   

Despite switching to a less corrosive water source last fall, health officials warn the city’s tap water is still not safe to drink. 

The governor’s office says it is cooperating with the investigation. 

"Gov. Snyder has appointed an independent panel that is reviewing all state, local and federal actions related to the situation. We are committed to working with Mayor Karen Weaver and county leaders as we focus on protecting the health of Flint residents and all Michiganders.”

Resignations at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, including that of director Dan Wyant, followed reports of mistakes by the agency overseeing Flint’s water quality.

The city of Flint has declared a “state of emergency” in hopes of receiving financial help from the state and the federal government. The city seeks more than $50 million to replace old lead pipes and connect to a new water source. More money will be needed to address health problems connected to lead in the drinking water. 

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is scheduled to meet with Gov. Rick Snyder Thursday to discuss the city’s request to send the application for a federal disaster declaration to the Obama Administration.  

Flint Congressman Dan Kildee welcomes the federal investigation.

"Accountability in the Flint water crisis is a top priority and I support a federal investigation into the ongoing public health emergency in our city," Kildee says in a written statement.  

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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