EPA's warning to Flint 7 months late, according to the inspector general

The Environmental Protection Agency had sufficient information to issue an emergency order to warn residents of Flint, Mich., of lead-contaminated water as early as June 2015, and should have responded more quickly, according to a report issued by Arthur A. Elkins Jr., the inspector general for the EPA.

In the report, dated Oct. 20, Mr. Elkins said EPA officials as early as June 2015 "had information that systems designed to protect Flint drinking water from lead contamination were not in place, residents had reported multiple abnormalities in the water, and test results from some homes showed lead levels above the federal action level."

The city switched its water supply to the Flint River in 2014 to cut costs while it built a new regional water system to bring in water from Lake Huron. However, after hundreds of children got lead poisoning from the Flint River water, the mayor declared a state of emergency in December 2015. The EPA did not issue an emergency order until Jan. 21, 2016.

Mr. Elkins said the EPA can intervene if "state actions are deemed insufficient." But because the agency did not intervene, "the conditions in Flint persisted, and the state continued to delay taking action to require corrosion control or provide alternative drinking water supplies," he wrote.

The EPA found out in April 2015 that Flint was not including a chemical in its water designed to prevent pipe corrosion, reports The New York Times. Miguel Del Toral, a drinking-water expert at the EPA, in June 2015 notified fellow EPA officials, as well as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, of the water supply issue, according to the publication.

But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told a Congressional committee last March that her agency had been repeatedly misled by state employees in Michigan and was not responsible for creating the lead problem. "I wish we had gone farther, I wish we had yelled from the treetops," she told the committee, according to The New York Times.

In a statement provided to the publication, EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee said: "EPA issued an order to the City of Flint and the State of Michigan as soon as it became apparent that the city and state were failing to address the serious problems with the Flint drinking water system."

She also noted EPA would continue to review the inspector general's findings, and said the agency already completed much of the training that was recommended in the report.


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