Michigan health department head charged with involuntary manslaughter over Flint water crisis

Bottle of contaminated water from Flint, Michigan.
(Image credit: Sarah Rice/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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