Scientists and water quality managers who worked for the Michigan state government have been charged with felony crimes for allegedly conspiring to poison the Flint, MI water supply with lead.
The felony charges include misconduct in office and conspiracy related to tampering with evidence.
The Detroit Free Press reported that three employees of the state who were responsible for maintaining the safety of water in Flint altered evidence, tweaked water sample tests and mislead both county and federal officials. All of this helped to set in motion the contamination of the city’s drinking water last year.
The attorney general for Michigan, Bill Schuette stated that the federal charges against the three scientists are just the beginning. His office filed charges against against Mike Glasgow, 40, of Flint, the city’s laboratory and water quality supervisor; Mike Prysby, 53, of Bath, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality official; and Stephen Busch, 40, of DeWitt, the Lansing district coordinator for the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance.
The state and federal charges case against the two state officials and one city manager are the first criminal charges in the Flint water disaster, whereby lead was sent through the city’s water system, and caused elevated lead levels in many people. This led to illnesses in hundreds of people in the city.
As of April 2016, many residents in the town of 100,000 still will not bathe or shower with city water, and most people will not drink tap water.
According to Andy Arena, a former Detroit FBI chief, and the lead investigator in the case by the state AG, the probe is the largest in the history of Michigan. He stated that the charges brought against these lower level officials is probably only the start of a deep investigation of wrongdoing in the case of Flint’s water supply.
Documents Indicate Damning Evidence
State documents associated with the charges indicate that local and state officials willingly gave false information as part of a chain of events that caused Flint to change its drinking water supply from the Detroit municipal system to the Flint River. They allegedly did this without adding essential corrosion controls that stop lead from getting into the water.
What still is not clear is why would anyone try to cover up the lead poisoning that was going on in the Flint water supply?
Officials think that the city had artificially low readings for lead because they failed to test the homes that had the highest risk, which were those that head lead service lines. Glasgow, one of the officials charged, signed a document stating that the homes that were used for testing tap water under the Lead and Copper Rule by the US government all had lead service lines, which was allegedly not the case.
It also was Glasgow who stated in 2014 that the Flint Water Treatment Plant was not ready to begin treating Flint River water in April of that year. Glasgow stated recently that he never received a response to that statement. The plant began to treat the water regardless.
Prysby was one of the recipients of that email that complained the plant was being hurried into operation. Glasgow stated it was Prsyby who notified him that the water treatment plant did not need to have chemicals for corrosion control to treat the Flint River water.
The governor of the state, Rick Snyder, sent a letter to all Michigan state employees this week stating that the criminal charges that were filed against two state employees related to the Flint drinking water crisis do not reflect upon them. He added that he wants any concerns about health and safety in the state brought to him personally.
He also said that there are many wonderful employees working for the state and that the situation should not taint the reputations of all of the 47,000 people who work in the state’s government.
A representative for the largest employee union in Michigan stated nonetheless that there is a culture of fear among employees in the state government and people feel afraid about stepping outside their area of authority or specialty.
The three officials who were charged are facing four to five years in prison for each of the felonies if convicted, and fines from $5000 to $10,000.
Prysby and Busch both were suspended without pay, and Glasgow is on paid administrative leave. Prysby and Busch have both entered not guilty pleas, and Glasgow has not yet appeared in court.