The city of Flint, Michigan, is still dealing with the fallout of its contaminated water crisis. In 2014, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River — and in addition to the resulting dangerously high levels of lead in the water, two studies published Monday revealed that the change in water supply also caused a massive outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the city between 2014 and 2015.
The outbreak killed 12 people and affected at least 87, NPR reported. Eighty percent of those cases are thought to have been caused by the water change, revealed one study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists theorize the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's thrived in the water from the Flint River water because that supply had lower levels of chlorine than the water from Lake Huron. Chlorine is one of the important killers of waterborne bacteria.
Chlorine is also known to interact differently with various metals, which means that the high lead levels in Flint's water might explain why the chlorine presence was so low — and why the Legionnaires' outbreak ended so quickly after Flint's water source switched away from the Flint River. Still, there are complications that may prevent the true impact of the Legionnaires' outbreak from ever being known, The Detroit News explained, including that some cases of Legionnaire's may have been misdiagnosed as pneumonia.
The study findings may have dire consequences for six local officials facing charges of involuntary manslaughter related to Legionnaires' disease, a legal analyst told The Detroit News. Read more about the studies here. Shivani Ishwar
A new study in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, water contamination crisis uncovered unsettling trends in fertility rates and fetal deaths during the time period the city was grappling with high levels of lead in its water supply. The working paper by West Virginia University's Daniel Grossman and University of Kansas' David Slusky concluded that "between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water."
Fetal deaths, when pregnancies last longer than 20 weeks but don't result in a live birth, rose 58 percent from April 2014 to 2016. Fertility rates dropped by 12 percent during that time period. "Either Flint residents were unable to conceive children, or women were having more miscarriages during this time," Slusky said.
The timing of these shifts is notable, as it was in 2014 when Flint's water was contaminated with dangerous levels of lead after the local government, under a state-appointed emergency manager, changed the city's water sources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that lead "can damage a developing baby's nervous system, causing miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as infertility in both men and women," USA Today reported.
Nick Lyon, the head of Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services, was charged Wednesday morning in relation to the ongoing Flint water crisis. Lyon is accused of failing to alert the public of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak, which experts have linked to tainted water in the Flint area.
Lyon is the highest-ranking official to be charged in the state attorney general's investigation into the Flint water crisis; he faces involuntary manslaughter charges, among others. The state's chief medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, has also been charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer.
The Flint water crisis dates back to April 2014, when the city began using water from the Flint River as a backup while it updated its piping system to Lake Huron. Flint officials didn't treat the water with an anti-corrosive agent — a violation of federal law — and lead from the city's old plumbing leaked into the untreated water, which was being used by Flint residents. Despite numerous reports, memos, complaints, and even third-party studies on the health risks of the Flint River water and the city's lead levels, Flint officials didn't switch water sources until October 2015.
The immediate and potentially long-lasting health effects of Flint's water crisis are alarming. Even low amounts of lead can cause brain damage and developmental and behavioral issues, particularly in children. In 2014 and 2015, there were nearly 100 reported cases of Legionnaires' disease — a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs — including 12 deaths. Lauren Hansen
A Flint, Michigan, county employee who blamed the city's water crisis on "f—ing n—ers [who] don't pay their bills" has resigned.
The Genesee County Land Bank manages tax-foreclosed properties in Flint, a city still trying to recover from its water being contaminated with lead, poisoning residents. Late last month, local water activist Chelsea Lyons was told that Genesee County Land Bank sales manager Phil Stair was at an area bar. She started talking to him, and recorded their conversations, ultimately posting them on her blog. In the recording, Stair is heard saying, "Flint has the same problems as Detroit, f—ing n—ers don't pay their bills, believe me, I deal with them."
Lyons told MLive.com on Monday she is concerned about Genesee County Land Bank "taking up all of the properties in Flint. They are pushing people out of the neighborhood." In Flint, where more than 56 percent of residents are black, many people are facing foreclosure because they refuse to pay their bills for water that still can't be used. Michele Wildman, executive director of Genesee County Land Bank, told NBC News she was "deeply troubled by the offensive and inexcusable comments," adding that Stair "does not reflect our values as a company." Catherine Garcia
The Flint, Michigan, water crisis is far from resolved — and for thousands of families in the area, it may soon get much worse.
Flint's city government has sent out warning letters to 8,002 households in the area threatening foreclosure over water bills residents have not paid for six months or more. The letter recipients aren't in trouble for being behind on their mortgages; if the families lose their homes, it will be via a city tax lien over their unpaid utility bills.
For some who received the warning, paying the bill is a financial problem, but for others it's a matter of principle: Flint's water quality is on the rise since it began buying water from Detroit, but many of the city's lead supply pipes will not be fixed or replaced for several years. "While I understand this is the way the law reads, we are in a totally different situation," said Flint's Melissa Mays, who received the notice and plans to pay her $900 bill to avoid foreclosure, even though she believes the city's threat is unfair given the circumstances.
City officials argue the foreclosure warnings are necessary because the city needs the revenue and cannot give water away for free. A number of officials involved in the water crisis face criminal charges. Bonnie Kristian
Four more officials were charged Tuesday in connection to the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced two of the city's former emergency managers and two water plant officials will face felony charges of "false pretenses and conspiracy." The emergency managers, who will be the highest-ranking officials to be charged thus far over the water crisis, will also face misdemeanor charges for "misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty," CNN reported.
"All too prevalent and very evident during the course of this investigation has been a fixation on finances and balance sheets," Schuette said Tuesday at a press conference. "This fixation has cost lives. This fixation came with the expense of protecting the health and safety of Flint." Tuesday's charges bring the total number of people charged up to 13, as the city continues to deal with the fallout of its bureaucratic negligence.
Schuette has also filed lawsuits against water supply engineering firms. Thousands of children in Flint were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead in their drinking water after the local government, under a state-appointed emergency manager, changed the city's water sources in April 2014. Becca Stanek
Another six Michigan state employees have joined the growing list of officials facing criminal charges over the Flint water crisis. On Friday morning, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed charges including misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, and various conspiracy counts against three employees from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and three from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, The Associated Press reported.
This marks the second round of charges Schuette has filed in connection to Flint's lead-contaminated water scandal. In April, two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees and one City of Flint official were hit with felony charges, including official misconduct and tampering with evidence.
Flint has been dealing with its drinking water being contaminated with dangerous levels of lead since 2014, when the local government, under a state-appointed emergency manager, switched the city's water sources. Becca Stanek
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed lawsuits against two companies Wednesday for their work in connection to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The lawsuit alleges that the water company and the engineering firm both contributed to and exacerbated the lead contamination in Flint's water supply through such "acts and omission [that] constitute professional negligence, fraud, and public nuisance," The Detroit Free Press reports. Both companies, Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, were initially hired by the city for their expertise, Schuette said.
Thus far, Schuette has also pressed charges against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and one City of Flint official over the Flint crisis. The city of Flint has been dealing with contaminated drinking water since 2014, when its water was contaminated with dangerous levels of lead after the local government, under a state-appointed emergency manager, changed water sources. Becca Stanek