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Email urged state officials to "keep their powder dry" on deadly Legionella outbreak

steve carmody
Michigan Radio
Gov. Snyder's aide Harvey Hollins answers questions during a preliminary exam on Wednesday

It appears many officials in the Snyder administration were aware of a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County in early 2015. But they didn’t want to let the public know.

State health department officials knew of the Legionella outbreak in January 2015. However, the government didn’t inform the public until January 2016.

At least 12 people died and dozens more were sickened by the Legionnaires' outbreak, which may have been linked to the Flint water crisis.

State health department director Nick Lyon is among several government officials facing involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the outbreak.

Harvey Hollins is a top aide to Gov. Rick Snyder. On the witness stand Wednesday, he testified that he did not hear Lyon say Legionnaires' presented an “imminent danger to the public health” even late in 2015. 

But Lyon’s defense attorney introduced emails showing other top state officials were made aware as well.   The emails from the first few months of 2015 informed individuals in the governor’s office and other state agencies.   

Only state agency public relations people were interested in talking about the outbreak, though mainly to keep the public from learning about it. 

On the witness stand, Governor Snyder’s aide Harvey Hollins admitted to receiving the email in March 2015. He admitted he did not mention the email’s contents to anyone else. Hollins noted the email encouraged people getting it to “keep their powder dry” about the outbreak.

“The ‘Keep our powder dry,' I guess that means you don’t want to put things out there yet,” Hollins testified, though he added, “That’s a phrase I’ve heard on Looney Toons. That’s not used on the regular level.”

The prosecution spent much of Wednesday’s preliminary exam introducing and dissecting information about Flint’s lead-tainted tap water and when the governor’s office may have been aware of the extent of the problem.

Lyon’s preliminary exam, which started in September, is scheduled to continue Thursday.   

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.