Michigan ex-Governor to be charged in Flint water crisis
Yesterday, former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was served notice that he will face charges in connection with the Flint water crisis. Nick Lyon, Snyder’s health director, and Rich Baird, one of Snyder’s top aides will also face charges associated with the water scandal.
Flint’s water woes began long before April of 2014 when the city began to draw its water from the Flint River in an effort to save money. Decades of heavy industrial pollution as well as the dumping of road salt, sewage, and chemicals has ravaged Flint River. Because of the severe contamination, the river has been treated with chlorine, which is corrosive and damaging to water pipes.
Prior to 2014, Flint’s water was supplied by the Detroit River. The move was originally scheduled to be a temporary solution while Flint, a city of roughly 100,000 mostly Black residents, transitioned to a regional water source. Almost immediately after the switch, residents began to complain of foul smelling, strange tasting water. Citizens also voiced health concerns associated with the change to water from the Flint River, reporting rashes, hair loss, and other skin irritations to city officials. Flint’s officials had decided not to treat the water from its river with anti-corrosive agents prior to the switch.
During the summer of 2015, Virginia Tech professor and water quality expert Marc Edwards was invited to Flint by resident LeeAnne Walters after her children and husband had begun to lose hair and develop scaly, red patches of skin. Edwards tested the water from Walters’ home and found what he described as the highest levels of lead that he had seen in over 25 years.
Still, officials in Michigan insisted that Flint’s water was safe for bathing and drinking. Residents, however, rejected the safe-to-drink narrative, demanding further research and testing into the city’s water quality. Ultimately, the resident’s concerns were vindicated after several doctors found high levels of lead in the blood of Flint children, including one of Walters’ twin sons.
Snyder eventually acknowledged that Flint’s residents were paying public utilities for poisoned water but denied that the state was responsible for the debacle. After unofficial reports began to swirl that state officials had known about Flint’s contaminated water but witheld that information from the public, Michigan’s then-Attorney General, Bill Schuette, opened an investigation.
Schuette’s investigation yielded several charges against state and local officials but none for Snyder. Statewide calls for Snyder’s resignation began to grow amid persistent murmurings that he knew of Flint’s water contamination, publicly denied such knowledge, and, ultimately, did nothing. Accusations of environmental racism were also mounting against state officials and in February of 2017, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission issued a report citing “systemic racism” as a key driver of Flint’s water crisis.
Yesterday’s announcement of charges against Snyder, Baird, Lyon, and potentially others associated with Snyder’s administration still leaves many questions unanswered. According to AP reports, the Michigan Attorney General’s office declined to offer specifics regarding any of the upcoming indictments. Despite the scant details, some Michiganders are celebrating what they view as a serious first step toward long overdue justice. Former Flint mayor, Karen Weaver — who led the city during the height of the water crisis — expressed relief and satisfaction after years of advocating for Snyder to be charged.
"It's about time. All evidence pointed to him that he knew, that he knew what was going on. It was a cover-up for 18 long months that something was going on with Flint and the water," Weaver said in a statement to the Detroit News. "It's just wonderful. It's finally here. It's hitting me right now."
Attorneys for the state of Michigan have notified all defendants in the case to anticipate court appearances within the coming weeks.