GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law $28 million more in emergency funding on Friday to address Flint’s lead-contaminated water, and said he didn’t know some state workers in the city had received bottled water last year while officials were still telling residents that tap water was safe to drink.
It’s the second round of state aid for the city since the crisis was confirmed in the fall, bringing the total allocated to nearly $39 million. The Republican governor said the funding will provide immediate resources in Flint, but is not the end of state assistance.
Improperly treated water leached lead from pipes into drinking water after Flint switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014 to save money while under state financial management. Some children’s blood has tested positive for lead, which has been linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ and behavioral problems. Flint has reconnected to Detroit’s system for now.
“It’s time to stand up and recognize that things could have been done differently,” Snyder said before signing the aid legislation. “Mistakes were made. . . . We’re going to solve them.”
Snyder has accepted responsibility for the emergency while also blaming state and federal environmental regulators, some of whom have resigned or have been suspended. But he remains the target of criticism, including long-shot efforts to recall him from office. In pledging again to fix the problem, he said, “how do you learn from things that didn’t go right to be even stronger and better for the long term?”
News that employees at a state building in Flint received fresh bottled water came Thursday in emails released by Progress Michigan, a liberal group critical of Snyder.
Snyder said Friday he had “no knowledge of that taking place.”
The governor’s spokesman Dave Murray said the water was for both employees and residents visiting the building, which includes the Department of Health and Human Services, starting in January 2015. He said he didn’t know if workers promoted that it was available.
Murray said one water cooler was placed on each floor and next to public drinking fountains. Water was provided until the summer, he said, and then returned in October after a public health emergency was declared. Another state spokesman said earlier it was provided continuously in the building.
The coolers were introduced after Flint officials warned residents about elevated levels of a disinfection byproduct called trihalomethane in the city’s water. The city notified water customers at the time that it was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act but described the water as safe to drink.
A state legislative leader from Flint says the suggestion that the public also could drink from the water coolers is “insulting.” Angela Wittrock, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, said it’s “lunacy” to suggest water delivered to state employees “was also meant for the 100,000 people of Flint who, by the way, were consistently being told their water was fine.”
Democrats on a U.S. House committee asked Snyder on Friday for documents related to Flint’s water crisis.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland have complained that the Oversight Committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, rejected their request for Snyder to testify at a hearing next week.
“The American people deserve a full accounting of this man-made disaster,” Lawrence said.
Flint residents are now warned to drink only filtered or bottled water because of lead contamination in the city’s supply. The latest state funding is intended to pay for bottled water, faucet filters, testing kits, additional school nurses, medical treatment and to help the city with unpaid water bills. There also is funding to hire outside experts to assess whether Flint’s water system infrastructure must be replaced or repaired.