Emergency Managers, Flint, Rick Snyder — February 10, 2016 at 11:25 am

#FlintWaterCrisis news round-up: Even the Emergency Manager knew about Legionnaires’ Disease spike nearly a year ago


NOTE: Those of you who tried to access the site yesterday likely encountered slow load times, frightening “account disabled” warnings, or just a non-loading website. Please accept my profound apology for that. My sodomy post went rapidly viral and overloaded our shared server, taking down all the other sites with it. We have now moved to a new, dedicated (and more expensive) dedicated server and it took time to optimize that set-up. However, we appear to be running fine now at long, frustrating last. Anne is busily working on the new site layout and we will be moving to the new theme in a few days. Thanks for your patience as we work through these growing pains.

– Chris

Flint residents now being told to boil water. Again. After lead filter, NOT BEFORE!

In the continuing effort to create an entire city full of beleaguered Jobs, a water main break in Flint has residents being asked to boil their water before drinking it. Again.

A new issue emerged in the long-running Flint water crisis when a water main break prompted the city to issue a boil-water alert Tuesday evening.

After a drop in the city’s water pressure, “bacterial contamination may have occurred,” the advisory read. The area affected included a large swath between Clio and North Center roads.

As a precaution, city officials are warning residents to boil all filtered water for one minute then let it cool before using. Residents not using a filter are asked to flush the water for at least seven minutes before collecting to boil.

Air and loose sediment may be trapped in the water lines, but residents are urged to not flush their system through filters since that could affect performance, according to the advisory.

Flint’s water department “is working to get pressure restored, and water staff will be taking other remedial actions such as flushing and collecting bacteriological samples from around the system,” the release read. “The samples will be taken to determine that the water quality meets the state drinking water standards.”

The city will inform residents when the advisory is lifted.

This is not the first time Flint residents have been directed to boil their water. They were asked to do this right after the switch to the Flint River, too. However, once the bacteria problem was solved and lead became a serious problem, they were told NOT to boil their water because that just concentrates the lead. Now there are billboards all over town like this one instructing people NOT to boil their water:

This is sure to confuse many Flint residents, particularly those who don’t speak English particularly well or who don’t receive the health advisory that was put out yesterday.

These poor people can’t catch a break.

Flint Emergency Manager new of Legionnaires’ Disease spike almost a year ago

MLive is reporting that Flint Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose knew of the huge spike in cases of Legionnaires’ Disease in Flint almost a year ago but never told city residents. Nine people have died from the outbreak.

The man Gov. Rick Snyder appointed to run the city of Flint last year was warned of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak — possibly tied to Flint River water — 11 months ago, records obtained by The Flint Journal-MLive show.

Former emergency manager Jerry Ambrose, a staunch defender of Flint water quality at the time, was warned of the potential Legionella crisis in a March 10, 2015, email from the Genesee County Health Department’s environmental health supervisor. […]

Two weeks after having been told of the outbreak, Ambrose called Flint’s water “safe by all … standards” and blasted a vote by the Flint City Council that sought to end the use of river water.

“It is incomprehensible to me that (seven) members of the Flint City Council would want to send more than $12 million a year to the system serving Southeast Michigan, even if Flint rate payers could afford it. (Lake Huron) water from Detroit is no safer than water from Flint,” Ambrose said at the time.

At least we know where Jerry Ambrose stood on the switch to the Flint River which resulted in the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water.

This brings to three the number of high-level officials in the Snyder administration who knew about the spike in cases of Legionnaires’ Disease nearly a year before it was made public by Gov. Snyder in January who claimed he had just heard about it. Progress Michigan’s tweet says it all:

Gov. Snyder is either a liar or an incompetent manager who has surrounded himself with people that keep vital, life-saving information from him. Either way, he’s unfit to govern our state.

City, state, and federal officials knew about the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak as much as 16 months ago

Turns out it wasn’t just the Snyder administration that knew about the surge in Legionnaires’ Disease cases in Flint. City, state, and federal officials, did, too.

First, from reporting by The Detroit News:

State and Genesee County health officials discussed the potential link between a rise in cases of Legionnaires’ disease and Flint’s switch to a new water source as early as October 2014 — 15 months before Gov. Rick Snyder went public about the spike in Legionnaires’ cases.

Emails released Tuesday by Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services offer details on a sometimes tense relationship between state and local officials over the outbreak and its handling. Between June 2014 and November 2015, Genesee County reported 87 cases of Legionnaires’ disease, including nine deaths.

The timeframe mirrors the period immediately after Flint began drawing its water from the Flint River in April 2014.

In an October 13, 2014, email among state health officials, the possible link between the water source and the health issues was discussed.

“The current hypothesis is that the source of the outbreak may be the Flint municipal water,” wrote Shannon Johnson, a state health department infectious disease epidemiologist. “I ran five-year (statistical analyses) for the six counties (Saginaw, Shiawasee, Livingston, Oakland, Lapeer and Tuscola) surrounding Genesee and none of those counties are experiencing an increase similar to what Genesee was experiencing.”

And then there’s this from the Detroit Free Press:

More than eight months before Gov. Rick Snyder disclosed a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Flint area, federal health officials worried a lack of cooperation in Michigan could be hampering the public health response.

Thousands of pages of e-mails obtained by the Detroit Free Press through the Freedom of Information Act on Monday show increasing concern about the quality of the Flint’s drinking water as tensions grew over a lack of coordination to combat the waterborne disease.

County health officials were warned for reaching out to federal experts for help while they struggled to persuade Flint city officials to provide needed information, the e-mails show. Others in e-mails wondered about ethical breaches and the possibility of a cover-up.

In sum, a review of the e-mails provided by Genesee County from several public-information requests appear to illustrate the inability, if not unwillingness, of city and state agencies to share information with the county as it investigated multiple Legionnaires’ cases. The clash among bureaucrats went on privately for months despite growing fears inside Flint among residents that something was deeply wrong with the city’s drinking water.

“We are very concerned about this Legionnaires’ disease outbreak,” Laurel Garrison of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote to Genesee County health officials in an April 27, 2015, e-mail. “It’s very large, one of the largest we know of in the past decade, and community-wide, and in our opinion and experience it needs a comprehensive investigation.”

All of these people knew and nobody said anything publicly, knowledge that could conceivably prevented multiple deaths. It’s astonishing.

Father suing state officials over lead poisoning of his daughter

Another day, another lawsuit. This is one is from a father whose 2-year old daughter had lead levels of 14. 5 is considered toxic.

Flint resident Luke Waid had a gut feeling something was wrong when his 2-year-old daughter recently went from being a bubbly, energetic child to anxious and constantly irritable.

Waid’s worst fears were confirmed when his daughter’s blood test results showed the toddler suffering from lead poisoning after ingesting Flint’s contaminated water.

“She’s constantly irritable,” Waid said Monday, while consoling Sophia. “She’s constantly irritable. These guys (his children) don’t have a voice of their own so I have to be their voice. I have to stand behind my children. If I didn’t feel so betrayed, I wouldn’t have brought it this far. They (state officials) could have told us, and we could have had a home filtration system set up so it wouldn’t have gotten this far.” […]

A Detroit-based law firm, McKeen & Associates, and two New York law firms, Napoli Shknolnik and Slater Slater Schulman, will represent the family in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in federal court. Shknolnik has managed more than 150 lead poisoning cases and Schulman has expertise in lead poisoning cases.

According to the law firms, this is the first individual, non class action brought against the city of Flint and state of Michigan on behalf of victims of the lead poisoning of Flint’s water supply.

“Even when these officials knew of a lead problem, they failed to act, thus resulting in an epidemic of lead poisoning,” said Brian McKeen, managing partner of McKeen & Associates, at a Monday news conference. “This child is but one of literally thousands of Flint residents who’ve been affected. … They, like any parent have suffered tremendous anguish knowing that their child has been poisoned and faces an uncertain medical and developmental future.”

Once the lawsuits play out and all the settlements are made, that $100 a day for phosphate treatment or even the exorbitant fees being charged by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department are going to look pretty insignificant in contrast.

The scary part, of course, is that all the money going to resolving this catastrophe and to settle the lawsuits will come out of other state budget items. Given their history, it’s clear Michigan Republicans won’t be asking corporations to chip in after getting billions of dollars in new tax breaks since 2011.

Why didn’t Flint water department staff insist on using phosphate corrosion control in Flint River water? We may have the answer.

One of the lingering questions in the entire Flint water debacle is why local water department officials in Flint didn’t insist on treating the corrosive Flint River water with phosphate treatments even though state officials in the Department of Environmental Quality weren’t requiring it. The water that Flint had been getting from the DWSD did have phosphate treatment.

Emails obtained by The Detroit News suggest that local staffers were afraid the phosphate would make their bacteria problems worse:

A Flint water official was concerned that using phosphates to protect the city’s water from lead might feed bacteria in the system, according to a September email from Flint’s former director of public works.

In the Sept. 3 email to city and state officials indicating that the city had returned to safe drinking water standards, Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft also addressed an earlier decision to avoid corrosion controls in the system until further testing was done.

“Most chemicals used in this process are phosphate-based and phosphate can be a ‘food’ for bacteria,” wrote Croft, who resigned two months later.

“At the onset of our plant design, optimization for lead was addressed and discussed with the engineering firm and with the (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality),” he wrote. “It was determined that having more data was advisable to the commitment of a specific optimization method.”

The only reason they had to choose between worsening the bacterial contamination and the potential for corroding water lines and leaching lead into residents’ drinking water is because Gov. Snyder’s hand-picked Emergency Managers all gave it the green light. And Flint officials were left to make it work. And it DIDN’T work.

State’s Chief Medical Executive Officer works part time. And that’s illegal.

Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Officer Dr. Eden Wells is required by the state’s Public Health Code to be in the position full-time. The Public Health Code reads, in part, “The chief medical executive shall be a full-time employee.” However, Dr. Wells is actually not full-time and that, say some legal experts, is a violation of state law:

Dr. Eden Wells was appointed to the post in April of 2015. The state’s Public Health Code requires that when a director overseeing the public health agency of the state — in this case, the Department of Health and Human Services and its director Nick Lyon — is not a physician, that the state hire a physician “fulltime” as the Chief Executive Medical Officer.

But an investigation has revealed that Wells does not work for the state, nor is she serving the needs of Michigan’s residents and their health, in a fulltime capacity.

“Either she needs to resign or become a fulltime employee of the state of Michigan,” said Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills. He is also the House Democratic leader. “With the Flint water crisis, the Legionnaires’ Disease, the Detroit Public Schools with classrooms filled with mold and mushrooms, we have very many pressing health concerns in the state. We need someone who is focused on it full time.”

But that is not what Wells is being paid for, according the University of Michigan.

“She’s basically splitting her time — 50 percent with university responsibility and 50 percent with the state of Michigan,” said Rick Fitzgerald, director of the U of M Office of Public Affairs and Internal Communications. “The state contracts with the university to fill this role.”

Questioned if he was stating that Wells was employed only part time as the state’s Chief Executive Medical Officer, Fitzgerald said, “That’s correct.”

Given the severity of the crisis in Flint, you’d think they’d want Dr. Wells working full-time and then some right about now.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver wants city’s lead water lines replaced within a year

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has proposed an ambitious plan to replace all lead water lines in Flint within a year, a project that she anticipates will cost $55 million:

Mayor Karen Weaver announced a $55 million effort on Tuesday to replace residential lead pipes in the city to combat its water contamination crisis.

Weaver described it as a “fast-start plan,” which officials would like to begin within a month, with priority given to high-risk households. The Lansing Board of Water & Light will provide Flint officials with technical advice on how to unearth and replace the city’s sprawling 550-mile-long network of iron pipes containing toxic lead metal that has tainted Flint’s water supply.

“The Lansing BWL pioneered lead pipe removal, techniques that can be used to efficiently to remove lead service lines in Flint quickly and at a lower cost than traditional methods,” Weaver said.

Officials say with 32 crews, the plan aims to replace an estimated 15,000 service lines with copper in the next year at no cost to homeowners.

Weaver called on Gov. Rick Snyder and the state to partner on the lead service line replacement program.

Given that the Snyder administration has known about the problem for over four months and has yet to replace a single inch of water lines, this seems especially ambitious. But the Lansing Board of Water and Light is confident it can be done:

Lansing’s public utility estimates that 32 crews working regular full-time hours could replace Flint’s 15,000 water service lines containing toxic lead metal within a year, city officials said Monday.

The Lansing Board of Water & Light is providing Flint officials with technical advice on how to unearth and replace the city’s sprawling 550-mile-long network of iron pipes containing toxic lead metal that has tainted Flint’s water supply. […]

Lansing BWL has slowly replaced 13,500 lead service lines since 2004. The remaining 650 lead-soldered water lines running from city streets into homes and business are scheduled to be removed by June 2017, said Stephen Serkaian, executive director of public affairs for Lansing BWL.

One of the biggest hurdles, of course, is that they don’t know where many of the lines actually are. Records for 11,000+ homes are missing.

Flint City Council wants to stop charging residents for poisoned water. But they have to ask permission from the state, first.

This is further evidence of just how big a failure Emergency Management is: Flint City Council members want to stop charging their residents for poisoned water but they can’t. They have to ask the Receivership Transition Advisory Board for permission. The RTAB took over for the Emergency Manager, effectively taking the oversight of a single person and giving it to several people.

There’s also the fact that the city is still broke, despite the financial wizardry of a succession of state-appointed Emergency Managers. See how well that’s working?

High lead? Low lead? Water testing results are not reliable at this point in the game.

Here’s some scary reporting:

Here’s the good news: Since January, more than 90 percent of water tests have come back below the federal action level for lead of 15 parts per billion.

But there are still some insanely high lead levels in some homes. Take a look at a map of where those are, and you’ll see there’s no pattern.

“It becomes almost a Russian roulette-type thing,” says Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech. Edwards is the researcher who’s working with the state to help resolve Flint’s water crisis.

“You might have samples that you collected from your house that were zero,” Edwards says. “And you would be wrong to think you’re protected from lead in water because you’ve previously tested at zero, because until corrosion control is effective, there’s a chance a piece of this lead will fall into your water.”

Edwards says the opposite is also true: a home that tests really high right now could have a lower test result the next time.

Remember, the protective coating inside of pipes has been eaten away throughout the city because the water wasn’t treated properly. What that means is that little pieces of lead are flaking off pipes throughout the system.

Here’s what that looks like:

Great explainer from Rebecca Williams and Lindsey Smith. As an EPA official says in the story, this is a potential problem in older cities across the U.S. HT Lester Graham.

Posted by Michael Hawthorne on Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Here’s the final analysis, for now:

“The way we look at this, Flint’s water right now is not safe to drink,” [the EPA’s Mark] Durno says. “Even if they get a zero result, we acknowledge the water is not safe to drink until we can show the entire system is recovered. Any particle could enter anyone’s drinking water at any time, we recognize that.”