WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal investigators are heading to Flint, Michigan, this weekend to interview residents who complained early on to the federal government about problems with the city’s water supply.
The inspector general’s office at the Environmental Protection Agency says more than 100 people submitted complaints to the agency or the White House between April 2014 — when the city’s water supply was switched to the Flint River — and January 2016. A public health emergency was declared in Michigan in October 2015.
Investigators from the watchdog’s office will hold invitation-only meetings with residents on Saturday to determine how the EPA responded to early requests for help. The interviews will be closed to the media and public.
The inspector general is investigating the EPA’s response to the lead-contamination crisis. Flint’s drinking water became tainted when officials began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. The impoverished city of 100,000 north of Detroit was under state control at the time.
Regulators failed to ensure the water was treated properly and lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply.
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency’s administrator, Gina McCarthy, requested the investigation by the internal watchdog in January.
“The agency is working to understand what it could have done to prevent this crisis in the city of Flint, and the inspector general has agreed to conduct a thorough, independent look at the effectiveness of this program,” said EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee. “This review will be beneficial in identifying the actions necessary to prevent a situation like Flint from ever being repeated.”
A panel appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder concluded that the state is “fundamentally accountable” for the lead crisis because of decisions made by state environmental regulators and state-appointed emergency managers who controlled the city.
Even so, Snyder and other Republicans have faulted the EPA for a slow response to the crisis.
At a congressional hearing last month, Snyder blamed career bureaucrats in Washington and Michigan for the crisis, while apologizing for not acting sooner to resolve it.
McCarthy, at that same hearing, acknowledged that her agency should have been more aggressive in testing the water and requiring changes, but said officials “couldn’t get a straight answer” from the state about what was being done in Flint. McCarthy refused several requests by GOP lawmakers to apologize.
“It was not the EPA at the helm when this happened,” she said.
The story has been corrected to reflect that the complaints were submitted between April 2014 and January 2016.
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