by Mary Chastain
Highest ranking officials charged over the water crisis.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Shuettte has filed charges against Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells in the Flint water probe.
Lyon faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office while Wells faces obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer. These charges stem from the “Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Flint area that led to 12 deaths after the city’s water supply was switched to the Flint River in April 2014.”
Detroit Free Press continued:
Lyon, 49, of Marshall is accused of causing the death of Robert Skidmore on Dec. 13, 2015 by failing to alert the public about a foreseeable outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. It’s a 15-year felony.
“Defendant Lyon was aware of Genesee County’s Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at least by Jan. 28, 2015 and did not notify the public until a year later,” the charging documents allege.
Lyon “exhibited gross negligence when he failed to alert the public about the deadly outbreak and by taking steps to suppress information illustrating obvious and apparent harms that were likely to result in serious injury.”
According to the charging documents, Lyon “willfully disregarded the deadly nature of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak,” later saying he “can’t save everyone,” and “everyone has to die of something.”
Lyon is also being charged with misconduct in office due to allegedly “instructing an official to discontinue an analysis that would help determine the cause of the outbreak.”
Detroit Free Press also outlined these charges:
Wells, 54, of Ann Arbor is accused in connection with the obstruction of justice charge of providing false testimony to a special agent and threatening to withhold funding for the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership if the partnership did not cease its investigation into the source of the outbreak. That’s a five-year felony.
Wells is also charged with lying to a peace officer about the date she knew of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. That’s a two-year misdemeanor.
She allegedly lied to officials when she claimed that “she had no knowledge of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak until late September or early October of 2015, when in fact she knew about the outbreak in March 2015.”
Wells had an agreement with officials that she would not face charges if she did not lie to them.
The attorney general’s office has already charged “13 current or former government officials” in connection with the Flint water crisis. Lyon and Wells are the highest-ranking officials to have charges levied against them.
The Flint Water Crisis
Lead contaminated Flint’s drinking water supply “in April 2014 after the city switched from treated Lake Huron water supplied from Detroit to raw water from the Flint River, which was treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.”
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Officials admitted that no one required officials to place “corrosion-control chemicals” to the water, which meant that the “lead leached from the pipes, joints and fixtures into Flint households.”
Emergency managers Jerry Ambrose and Darnell Earley “wanted Flint to help finance the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), a new pipeline still under construction.” This way Flint did not have to pay Detroit for its drinking water. Neither one could get the bond to buy the new pipeline so they found a loophole to borrow money. They claimed that the money would go to “the clean-up of a troublesome lagoon of lime sludge (a by-product of water treatment).” But Ambrose and Earley gave the money to KWA.
The bond application said, though, that the city must use the Flint River for drinking water “while the KWA was being constructed.” From CNN:
Deciding to go with the KWA set off a chain of events. Flint needed to find a water source while it was being built. Its water plant was rushed into use. And then, emails show, Croft signed off on the decision not to add anti-corrosive agents (called phosphates) to the water supply out of fear it would grow bacteria.
But without those phosphates, the water corroded lead pipes and it leached into drinking water. Hundreds of children were poisoned.
In addition, the corrosion gave other bacteria — such as legionella, a cause of Legionnaires’ disease — a place to flourish, and Flint had one of the nation’s largest outbreaks of that disease. A dozen people died.
This disease is a rare form of pneumonia. From the CDC:
Legionella is a type of bacterium found naturally in freshwater environments, like lakes and streams. It can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made water systems like
Showers and faucets
Cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings)
Hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use
Decorative fountains and water features
Hot water tanks and heaters
Large plumbing systems
People cannot spread the Legionnaires’ disease. The CDC states that the disease spreads when the “Legionella grows and multiplies in a building water system, that contaminated water then has to spread in droplets small enough for people to breathe in.”