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Witness claims state officials wanted to limit public comments on Flint water issues

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A Wayne State University professor testified today that state officials didn’t want information getting out about continuing problems with Flint’s drinking water.

In 2016, Dr. Shawn McElmurry led a research team, hired by the state, to investigate a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak that occurred in Genesee County in 2014 and 2015.  At least a dozen people died from the pneumonia-like illness. Scores more were hospitalized.   

In court, McElmurry told special counsel Todd Flood that top state officials didn’t want information going out that indicated there were still problems with Flint’s tap water.

“When you say ‘going out,’ did you mean just to go out to one person or go out to the community at large?” asked Flood.

“Publicly,” McElmurry responded.

McElmurry went on to discuss ways that state officials tried to scale back his team's efforts to trace legionella bacteria. For insistence, the Wayne State researcher wanted to replace shower heads and hot water tanks that testing showed had significant evidence of the bacteria. But state officials pushed to only inform homeowners how to clean out the bacteria.

McElmurry has spent several days in the witness stand during the preliminary hearing for Nick Lyon, the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Lyon is one of 11 current and former government officials face charges ranging from neglect of duty to involuntary manslaughter.    

So far, none of the judges overseeing the preliminary hearings has ruled whether there is enough evidence to send the cases to trial.

Four people have cut plea deals with prosecutors for lesser sentences in exchange for their cooperation.

Nick Lyon is scheduled to return to court on Friday.

Next week, a preliminary exam is scheduled for two defendants accused of changing a report that originally showed a spike in blood lead levels in Flint children.

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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