In an editorial this morning, Tne New York Times unloads on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for his culpability and lack of action in the negligent poisoning of residents of the city of Flint, who for a year and a half were forced to drink noxious, lead-tainted water so the city, under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Snyder, could save a few bucks.
The governor, a Republican, did virtually nothing to help the city until an outpouring of rage from Flint residents, city leaders, journalists and independent researchers forced him to wake up and focus on the calamity, which started more than a year ago.
While local news media has been instrumental in breaking this story, especially Michigan Public Radio and the Detroit Free Press, there is a certain satisfaction in seeing this man-made disaster brought to national attention in such blunt terms:
This was a catastrophe caused by failures at every level. A task force appointed in October by the governor put the primary blame on the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, whose director resigned in late December. According to the task force, the state health department apparently had early knowledge about elevated lead levels in the blood of children, but kept silent and did not warn the public. And one or more of the successive emergency managers appointed by Mr. Snyder to control spending in Flint signed off on bad decisions.
In September, an outside expert reported high levels of lead in the water and a local medical center found high levels of lead in the blood of many children, who are especially vulnerable to long-term brain damage. State environmental officials belittled these findings, criticized the researchers, and told the public to relax, the water was perfectly safe. Of course, the researchers were right.
And the already bad news may still get worse. Between June 2014 and November 2015, Flint and surrounding Genesee County have seen an unexplained spike in cases of Legionnaires disease, with 87 reported cases, 10 of which were fatal. The norm in previous years was between 6 and 13 cases. The region’s tainted water supply is strongly suspected to have played a part.
The Times editorial is equally blunt about who is responsible for fixing this disaster:
Mr. Snyder has appointed one task force to investigate how this problem occurred and another task force to find long-term solutions. Whatever fix is required, the buck clearly stops with him. This disaster occurred on his watch and he has to find the money, either within the state budget, from private sources or by begging for a handout from the federal government. Given his indifference until forced to act, outsiders will need to monitor the state’s response to make sure it protects the health of the residents of Flint now and in future years.
Maybe now that his indifference has been called out in front of a worldwide audience, Snyder can bring some of his vaunted “relentless positive action” and actually do something for the people of Flint.