The long-running water crisis in Flint, Mich., became a criminal case Wednesday as state investigators alleged that a conspiracy among government officials had allowed the town’s water to be poisoned with toxic lead.
Two Michigan state environmental employees and the city of Flint’s water quality manager were charged with felonies on suspicion of falsifying reports and misleading regulators in a crisis that has shaken the administration of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and brought calls for his resignation.
State Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette, who will lead the state’s investigation, gave no motive at a news conference Wednesday. But he promised “there will be more to come” and refused to rule out charges against anyone, including the governor.
“There are no targets, and nobody is ruled out,” said Schuette, a possible gubernatorial contender in 2018, who said he would follow the facts wherever they lead — or “in this case, wherever the emails take us.”
Snyder, who has blamed “a handful of bureaucrats” lacking “common sense” for the water crisis, said the “deeply troubling” criminal charges would take matters “to a whole new level” if proved true.
“We’ve been fully cooperating with this investigation and will continue to do so,” Synder said.
Flint’s problems began in 2014, when the financially troubled city — which was then being overseen by a series of Snyder-appointed emergency managers — switched its water source to the Flint River to save money.
But after the switch, regulators failed to treat the Flint River water with anti-corrosives, and lead began seeping out of residents’ old pipes and fixtures.
The new criminal charges accuse water officials not only of breaking environmental laws but falsifying tests in 2015 that would have shown rising levels of lead, which can be particularly harmful to young children’s development.
Flint water quality supervisor Michael Glasgow was charged with willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor, for failing in his role as operator of the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Glasgow was also charged with felony evidence tampering related to information to be included in a lead and copper test report.
Less than two weeks before Flint’s water switch, Glasgow complained to state regulators in an email that the city’s water plant was not ready, but “I have people above me making plans to distribute water ASAP.”
“I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before I will feel we are ready,” Glasgow wrote, according to the Flint Journal. “I will reiterate this to management above me, but they seem to have their own agenda.”
Michael Prysby, a district water engineer for the state environmental agency, was reportedly the recipient of Glasgow’s email.
Prysby was charged with felony misconduct for authorizing a permit for the Flint Water Treatment Plant, despite knowing the plant would not be able to provide clean and safe drinking water, according to court documents.
Prysby, along with Stephen Busch, a district water supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, were charged with felony tampering and conspiracy charges on suspicion of manipulating lead and copper monitoring reports in 2015 to make lead levels seem lower than they really were.
Both were also charged with violating monitoring requirements of the state water act by telling residents to “pre-flush” their taps for five minutes the night before lead testing — a practice that would have shown lower signs of lead.
Prysby and Busch face additional charges of failing to collect the required water samples and even removing test results from a safety report.
The two state officials pleaded not guilty at a Wednesday arraignment, the Detroit News reported, and Glasgow could not be reached for comment.