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Some of Those Gov.-Snyder-Released Emails on the Flint Water Crisis

January 24, 2016

On January 20, 2016, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released a 274-page file of his emails related to the Flint water crisis.

The January 20, 2016, Detroit News article references certain emails in Snyder’s release as being key to understanding state culpability in the water crisis.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder was advised in late September that the state bore responsibility for Flint’s water problems because former state Treasurer Andy Dillon made “the ultimate decision” to let the city leave the Detroit system, according to emails released Wednesday.

The city later turned to corrosive Flint River water that caused aging pipes to release lead into the drinking water. …

In late September, then-Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore offered a contrarian view at times about whether the state was on the hook for costs associated with switching Flint back to Detroit’s water.

“I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject,” Muchmore wrote in a Sept. 25 email to Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and top gubernatorial aides.

The messages detail a realization over three weeks that Dillon was not the administration’s only tie to the crisis: On Oct. 2 the state acknowledged that its test results failed to identify increasing lead levels in children; on Oct. 18 the Department of Environmental Quality chief told Snyder the agency mistakenly failed to require corrosion controls on Flint River water. …

The release also details events preceding the resignation of DEQ Director Dan Wyant late last month. An Oct. 18 email shows Wyant preparing to respond to questions submitted by The News that raised questions about the state’s actions and public comments. In that email, he admits to Snyder that the DEQ mistakenly failed to apply the correct EPA standards to protecting Flint’s water system.

“Attached is our response to the Detroit News for a story that they are preparing for tomorrow,” Wyant wrote. “Part of that story looks at whether the DEQ staff followed appropriate federal protocols in light of Flint’s population size. My responses, enclosed here, are an effort to acknowledge something that has come out in the past week through internal review… I believe now we made a mistake.” …

During an interview with Scott Pelley for the “CBS Evening News” that aired Wednesday evening, Snyder again took responsibility for the water crisis and said the state DEQ did not use enough common sense.

“They were too technical,” Snyder said. “They followed literally the rules. They didn’t use enough common sense to say in situation like this there should be more measures. …”

In other words, DEQ was too, uh, text dependent— incompetent in exercising critical thought; lacking the ability to recognize that one cannot paste canned protocol on top of a unique situation.

In short, inept.

But back to those emails:

Even though the public is able to access Snyder’s email release, sorting through hundreds of pages of emails can prove a daunting task.  However, I believe it is important for the public to see at least some of those emails firsthand. Therefore, I have included a few of the emails referenced in the January 20, 2016, Detroit News article in the remainder of this post.

Key individuals referenced in the emails include Governor Snyder, Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore, State Treasurer Andy Dillon, Representative Dale Kildee, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Dan Wyant (now resigned), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Nick Lyon, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives Director Harvey Hollins, and Senior Deputy Director for External Relations and Communications at Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Geralyn Lasher.

Some additional organizations referenced include the Department of Community Health (DCH), Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD),  Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

And then, there is the Detroit News, among others, a catalyst in pushing the state of Michigan to get the lead out– literally.

***

—–Original Message—–
From: Muchmore, Dennis (GOV)
Sent: Friday, September 25, 2015 10:29 AM
To: Snyder, Rick (GOV) Calley, Brian (GOV)
Cc: Scott, Allison (GOV) <scotta12@michigan.gov>; Agen, Jarrod (Gov) <AgenJ@michigan.gov>
Subject: Flint water

The issue of Flint water and its quality continues to be a challenging topic. The switch over to use Flint river water has spurred most of the controversy and contention. The DEQ and DCH feel that some in Flint are taking the very sensitive issue of children’s exposure to lead and trying to turn it into a political football claiming the departments are underestimating the impacts on the populations and particularly trying to shift responsibility to the state.

We have put an incredible amount of time and effort into this issue because of the impacted neighbors and their children, and the KWA/DWSD controversy and Dillon’s involvement in the final decision. Kildee is asking for a call with you. That’s tricky because he’s sure to use it publicly, but if you don’t talk with him it will just fan the narrative that the state is ducking responsibility. I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.

The real responsibility rests with the County, city and KWA, but since the issue here is the health of citizens and their children we’re taking a pro-active approach putting DHHS out there as an educator.

I’m not sure how much background you need on all this so I don’t want to flood you with stuff. Jarrod and Dave have a lot of info that we can supplement your understanding and we can put a briefing or face to face with Wyant and Lyon if you want to go there.

Sent from my iPhone

***

From: Muchmore, Dennis (GOV)
Sent: Saturday, September 26, 2015 9:26AM
To: Snyder, Rick (GOV)
—— Cc: Calley, Brian (GOV); Scott, Allison (GOV) <scotta12@michigan.gov>; Agen, Jarrod (GOV)
<AgenJ@michigan.gov>; Hollins, Harvey (GOV) <hollinsh@michigan.gov>; Clement, Elizabeth (GOV)
<clemente@michigan.gov>; Walsh, John (GOV) <WalshJ@michigan.gov>; Posthumus, Dick (GOV)
<Posthumusd@michigan.gov>; Forstner, Nathaniel (GOV) <forstnernl@michigan.gov>
Subject: Flint updates

The memo and attachments below have captured the latest information from the departmental side on Flint
succinctly. Kildee is engaged in his normal press hound routine, which is unfortunate because he’s really a smart, talented guy who needs to roll up his sleeves while Ananich is looking for relief but doesn’t know where it would come from and as usual is a positive force.

Frankly, I think both know that Walling went out on CYA effort due to the election, but of course can’t say so. Neither has any idea where his $30M figure came from, or where we would get it even if you were so inclined.

Originally the thrust for the KWA came from the Genesee County commission and those involved in the planning for KWA including the Trades. By the time the council had voted 7-1 for it, Andy Dillon was in the position of signing off on it and did. However, it was still the right position for the long term benefit of the city and its future. They of course have not been particularly helpful in find ing solutions to the issues. I will say that the Drain Commissioner has been a good partner and is working overtime on the problem.

They can’t reconnect to DWSD even if they wanted to as they sold the connector line. And, especially with the new rate increases in Detroit, their citizens would be less able to pay than they already are. The water certainly has occasional less than savory aspects like color because of the apparently more corrosive aspects of the hard water coming from the river, but that has died down with the additional main filters. Taste and smell have been problems also and substantial money has been extended to work on those issues.

Now we have the anti everything group turning to the lead content which is a concern for everyone, but DEQ and DHHS and EPA can’t find evidence of a major change per Geralyn’s memo below. Of course, some of the Flint people respond by looking for someone to blame instead of working to reduce anxiety. We can’t tolerate increased lead levels in any event, but it’s really the city’s water system that needs to deal with it. We’re throwing as much assistance as possible at the lead problem as regardless of what the levels, explanations or proposed solutions, the residents and particularly the poor need help to deal with it.

It seems that continuing to find funds to buy local residents home filters is really a viable option and Harvey and all are pursuing more assistance in that work. Almost all the “experts” I’ve talked to are convinced the problem is in the old lines leading to homes and short of a massive replacement CSO type bond that wouldn’t resolve the issue for a couple of years, nature {temp reductions), filters and a final connect seem to be the best courses of action.

The residents are caught in a swirl of misinformation and long term distrust of local government unlikely to be
resolved.

Sent from my !Phone

Begin forwarded message:
From: “Lasher, Geralyn (DCH)” <lasherg@michigan.gov>
Date: September 25, 2015 at 4:47:01 PM EDT
To: “Muchmore, Dennis (GOV)” <muchmored@michigan.gov>, “Clement, Elizabeth (GOV)” <clemente@michigan.gov>, “Lyon, Nick (DCH)” <LyonN2@mlchigan.gov>, “Wyant, Dan (DEQ)”
<WyantD@michigan.gov>
Cc: “Wurfel, Brad (DEQ)” <WurfeiB@michigan.gov>, “Wisniewski, Wendy (GOV)”
<wisniewskiw@michigan.gov>, “Grijalva, Nancy (DCH)” <GriialvaN@michigan.gov>, “Hertel, Elizabeth
(DCH)” <HerteiE@michigan.gov>
Subject: Update

Quick recap on the interactions this week from the MDHHS side on the Flint water issue.

Today the City of Flint issued the attached “Lead Advisory” for residents to be aware of lead levels in drinking water and issued suggestions from the Genesee County Health Department as to what residents could do to reduce risk. These include:

–flushing cold-water pipes by running water for approximately 5 minutes,

–using only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking and making baby formula

–installing a waterfilter that is NSF-certified for lead removal.

We worked with the Genesee County Health Department throughout the week to get them in a more pro-active mode to provide this guidance publicly and to encourage citizens to have the City test their water if they were concerned about the quality of water at their home. The health department also issued this fact sheet

http://www.gchd.us/docs/Popular_Pages/GCHD_Lead_in_Water_Fact_Sheet__2_.pdf

on Thursday providing additional information on the issue.

MDHHS epidemiologists continue to review the “data” provided by a Hurley hospital physician that showed an increase in lead activity following the change in water supply. While we continue to review this data, we have stated publicly that Hurley conducted their analysis in a much different way than we do at the department. Hurley used two partial years of data, MDHHS looked at five comprehensive years and saw no increase outside the normal seasonal increases. The Hurley review was also a much smaller sample than MDHHS data as ours includes all hospital systems in Flint as well as outside
laboratories.

We have also provide the attached data chart that outlines if the elevated blood lead levels were being driven by a change in water, we would have seen the elevated levels remain high after the change in water source.

We have also communicated that for WIC beneficiaries in Flint with documentation of unsanitary water, they may be able to receive ready to feed formula and have encouraged families to contact WIC to see if they are eligible for this formula. SNAP beneficiaries are able to purchase bottled water with their SNAP funds.

Talking points from MDHHS are attached as well.

Thank you,

G

***

From: Wyant, Dan (DEQ)
Sent: Sunday, October 18, 2015 4:30PM
To: Snyder, Rick (GOV)
Cc: Wurfel, Sara (GOV) <Wurfefs@michigan.gov>; Agen, Jarred (GOV) <AgenJ@michigan.gov>; Muchmore, Dennis (GOV)
<muchmored@michigan.gov>; Clement, Elizabeth (GOV) <clemente@michigan.gov>
Subject: FW: Detroit News Flint II

Governor,

Attached is our response to the Detroit News for a story that they are preparing for tomorrow. Part of that story looks at whether the DEQ staff followed appropriate federal protocols in light of Flint’s population size.
My responses, enclosed here, are an effort to acknowledge something that has come out in the past week through internal review. Simply said, our staff believed they were constrained by two consecutive six”month tests. We followed and defended that protocol. I believe now we made a mistake. For communities with a population above 50,000, optimized corrosion control should have been required from the beginning.

Because of what I have learned, I will be announcing a change in leadership in our drinking water program. I’ve spoken with Dennis about this, and will be making that announcement as part of the Detroit News article that likely will be out tomorrow.

We’ve spoken with Jarred and Sara about this today as well.

Call me if you have any questions. Thank you.

Dan Wyant, Director
Department of Environmental Quality
517-284-6700 (New Number)

***

From: Wurfel, Brad (DEQ)
Sent: Sunday, October 18, 20l5 3:54PM
To: Agen, Jarrod (GOV); Clement, Elizabeth (GOV); Muchmore, Dennis (GOV)
Cc: Wyant, Dan (DEQ); Wurfel, Sara (GOV); Murray, David (GOV)
Subject: Detroit News Flint II

All,

Need your review of this document. It’s our response to Detroit News Story they’re prepping for tomorrow.

Per Sara, Dan will call Jerrod shortly to discuss what we’re proposing to do here.

Thanks,

b

[From Detroit News to DEQ’s Brad Wurfel. Wurfel’s responses are indented]:

Brad,

After reviewing the emails made available through FOIA, there are several things that seem to need addressing.

1. It appears DEQ staffers have essentially down played or ignored warning signs from EPA’s water expert, Miguel Deltoral. We have been aware of Mr. Deltoral’s unofficial memo that went public in April. But his email dated two months earlier on Feb. 27, to Jennifer Crooks and Mike Prysby, he seems to lay out exactly what’s come to pass …

“(Particulate lead readings) Folks tend to discount these values as anomalies, but particulate lead release is a normal part of the corrosion process and it is universal (common) in all systems. It’s just that it’s not captured as often by the infrequent LCR sampling. If systems are pre-flushing the tap the night before collecting LCR compliance samples (MDEQ) still provides these instructions to public water systems) this clea rs particulate lead out of the plumbing and biases the results low by eliminating the highest lead values. If systems are pre-flushing and still finding particulate lead, the amount of particulate lead in the system can be higher than what is being detected using these “pre-flushed” first-draw samples.

“My point on that was that people are exposed to the particulate lead on a daily basis, but the particulate lead is being flushed away before collecting compliance samples which provides false assurance to residents about the true lead levels in the water.”

Miguel goes on to address the optimal corrosion control situation in that same Feb 27 email.

“If I remember correctly, Detroit is feeding (phosphate) for the lead/copper rule, but since Flint is no longer part of that interconnection, I was wondering what their OCCT was. They are required to have OCCT in place which is why I was asking what they were using.”

So what I’m seeing here is Miguel having raised these issues as far back as February. When unofficial April memo shows up, it’s clear these issues still haven’t been addressed.

Another email from the day before came from Jennifer Crooks at EPA which also highlights early concern about a lack of proper corrosion controls as well as the testing methods.

“The City can’t just flush in advance of taking the compliance samples, they have to flush the lines on a regular basis.”

Can you respond to the fact that it appears the state ignored or disregarded several warnings from EPA officials about testing deficiencies and insufficient corrosion controls?

[Response] Emails offer snapshots of a much broader conversation. The program staff did not ignore the information. They believed they were handling the situation in full accordance with federal protocols, and contacted EPA Region 5 officials promptly to seek guidance. They were more than halfway done with compliance sampling under the federal protocol and the 90th percentile samples to that point showed 6 pbb- barely in excess of the 5 pbb threshold.

2. Corrosion control, or the lack thereof, seems to be another major problem here. At the first of the recent press conferences, Dan Wyant said that lime was being used as a corrosion control method. But that is clearly contradicted by DEQ staff at several points. One of those is Pat Cook’s email from April 24.

“Flint is currently not practicing corrosion control treatment at the (water treatment plant).”

[Response] This puts Dan’s comments about the lime into question. There’s been some confusion on this point, and I think it was addressed in our previous response. This was a misunderstanding with technical staff. Lime was added to soften the water.

While it adjusts pH and can have some impact on corrosivity, it was insufficient corrosion control.

3. I gather from several exchanges in here that EPA and DEQ disagree over that the state’s responsibility was in ensuring there was optimal corrosion control. One of the emails from July includes notes from a meeting of all the parties shows that EPA was asking why that hadn’t been used from the outset, and the state’s response was something along these lines:

“MDEQ explained that they did not treat the switch to Flint River water as a “new system,” but as a new source. It is their understanding that two rounds of 6-month testing is still needed to characterize the water quality. They don’t know what optimized is until those two rounds of six month monitoring are completed.”

Under the lead copper rule, was the state required to have phosphate treatment in place? It appears here that the state chose to interpret the CLR as not requiring corrosion control. That seems like a highly dubious conclusion.

And after concerns were raised repeatedly beginning (at least as early as February), why was nothing done?

[Response] What has become clear in recent weeks is that staff believed they were handling the situation In accordance with the proper protocol for a water provider using a new source, but the federal Lead and Copper rule has a particular provision for communities over 50,000 people; that the system operator must continue treating with full corrosion control even as they test the water. What the staff did would have been the proper protocol for a community under 50,000 people. None of
the DEQ staff in this division had ever worked on a water source switch for a community over 50,000 people- it’s uncommon for our big communities to switch sources.

It’s increasingly clear there was confusion here, but it also is increasingly clear that DEQ staff believed they were using the proper federal protocol and they were not.

The Governor will soon announce an independent, third party, after-action review to detail what happened and why, and offer steps to make sure Michigan’s drinking water program is on a better course in the future.

4. Another area of concern, one I mentioned on the phone, is the pace of response. And I understand that the lead copper rule lays out response times. But you have concerns being raised about lead by an EPA expert as far back as February. The state’s response, in several instances, is that federal guidelines give us two six-month periods to collect samples, and then
more time to submit an action plan, and then a year or more to enact that plan.

While those delays in making a change may be permitted under the law, given that we’re talking about a possible public health crisis, why wasn’t there more expediency? The responses in these emails appear to be without any sense of urgency at a time when Flint residents may have been drinking dangerous water.

[Response] The results of two rounds of water testing showed the city needed to move to optimizing its corrosion control. That order was issued Aug. 17.

5. At many points along the way, serious concerns are made about the state’s testing methods. The Virginia Tech results were not the first time someone had indicated state testing- as approved by federal guidelines- might not be giving accurate readings.

Miguel’s April memo reads: “I wanted to follow up on this because Flint has essentially not been using any corrosion control treatment since April 30, 2014 and they have (lead service lines). Given the very high lead levels found at one home and the pre-flushing happening in Flint, I’m worried that the whole town may have much higher lead levels than the compliance results indicated, since they are using pre-flushing ahead of their compliance sampling.”

[Response] There is substantial controversy over the lead and copper rule- the EPA has been working for years on ways to update it, and Michigan will be an active part of that conversation going forward. The situation in Flint is a snapshot of an issue affecting cities around the state and the nation. More than a dozen states use the sampling protocol Michigan uses- that’s not a defense of the protocol, but rather an indication that even experts on the issue disagree about the most effective testing methods.

What everyone can agree on is that lead is a serious issue. And I think everyone can agree that when the
state came to recognize that there could be a health threat in the city, we took appropriate action. We are now engaged In an unprecedented effort to protect kids and families In Flint, develop more knowledge about what has happened and how people were affected, and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again -In Michigan, or anywhere else.

All the people who brought this issue forward deserve credit for bringing it to us. Our actions reflected inexperience, and our public response to criticism was the wrong tone early in this conversation. But the best we can do with the situation going forward is represented in our present course – the Governor’s plan represents all the suggestions outlined in the draft EPA memo, the Virginia Tech report, and the guidance we’ve gotten from EPA.

We will learn from this. We will make necessary changes to see to it that our program becomes a national leader in protection.

Wyant resigned his position as DEQ director. However, much more is needed to repair the damaged trust that Flint citizens have in their government, from Snyder on down.

Much more, no doubt.

flint water 1

flint water 2

flint water 3

flint water 4

flint water 5

flint water 6

Images of “Michigan Pure” Water in Flint

____________________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

5 Comments
  1. One thing you can trust — that Snyder’s self-election of emails will be calculated to distract everyone from the real agenda already in progress.

  2. Christine Langhoff permalink

    An investigative journalist from Detroit has emails which seem to demonstrate that the lies are lies:

    “The Flint water crisis that led to thousands of people being poisoned began because state officials maintained it would save the cash-strapped city money by disconnecting from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and using a different source.

    But it turns out, DWSD offered the state-controlled city a deal that would have saved Flint more money by staying with Detroit.”

    http://motorcitymuckraker.com/2016/01/23/gov-snyder-lied-flint-water-switch-was-not-about-money-records-show/

    • Christine Langhoff permalink

      Thanks, Jon. More pieces of the puzzle…

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