Lawmakers Propose $400 Million in Funding for Flint, More Latitude to EPA

Last week, U. S. Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said they would pursue legislation that would pay up to $400 million, matching dollar-for-dollar state investments, for replacing lead service lines and other water infrastructure repairs in Flint.

The proposal is expected to be offered this week as an amendment to a comprehensive energy bill being debated in the U.S. Senate.

The proposal would also call for creation of a $200-million center to study the effects of lead exposure on children and adults, helping to coordinate long-term response to the health of those affected by the crisis. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose work in researching children’s blood-lead levels in Flint helped lead to the discovery of the crisis, said such a center is badly needed and is ?how we can show the nation and the world that we can … rise above this disaster.?

The legislation would also clarify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?s (EPA) authority to notify the public in the event there is a danger from lead in their water system. Specifically, the bill would direct the EPA to notify residents and health departments if the amount of lead found in a public water system requires action in the absence of notification by the state. The legislation also allows the EPA to release results of any lead monitoring conducted by public water systems. Currently, the responsibility for notification lies at the local and state level.

?It is clear the State of Michigan did not fulfill their responsibility to prevent lead from leaching into Flint?s drinking water system or to make the public aware of the danger in their drinking water,??Peters said. ?There are a number of steps that need to be taken to both mitigate the long-term effects of lead exposure on Flint residents and ensure this type of situation never happens again, and this legislation will make it clear the EPA can take action if a state is dragging their feet and endangering the health of its residents.?

?When the people of Flint raised concerns about the safety of their water, the EPA tested that water and found that it was dangerous to drink,??Stabenow said. ?The State of Michigan chose to criticize and ignore those findings, which has caused irreversible harm to potentially a generation of children. This bill will give the EPA clear legal authority to provide notice to the public when a state is not taking action on a public health safety crisis.?

?The Flint water crisis is a failure of government, particularly at the state level, and necessary changes need to be made to existing law to ensure that another public health emergency like this never happens again,??Kildee said. ?The state has a moral responsibility to act, and it must do more to help make sure that Flint families and children get the immediate and-long term resources they need to help cope with this terrible crisis.?

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was made aware that a number of residences in Flint were experiencing high lead levels and that there were no corrosion control measures in place in the Flint water system. According to several reports, the state took months to properly alert Flint residents of the health risks in the water system. The bill introduced by Peters, Stabenow and Kildee would address this delay in public notification.

Flint?s drinking water supply was contaminated with lead starting in April 2014 when the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched the source of supply from Lake Huron water supplied by the City of Detroit to Flint River water treated at the Flint’s?city treatment plant. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials have acknowledged they made a mistake when they failed to require needed corrosion control chemicals to be added to the water.

As a result, lead leached from pipes and fixtures into the drinking water. Although the city switched back to Detroit water in October, officials say the potential for harm continues due to the damage done to the distribution system.

Contrary to the Michigan lawmakers? call for more oversight by the EPA in future situations, the EPA has, slammed the city and state response to the Flint crisis. Susan Hedman, the agency’s regional administrator for Flint, has since resigned and the agency’s Office of Inspector General is investigating the water supervision program under Hedman?s authority.

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