The net of state officials being held accountable for Flint’s lead poisoning crisis has grown wider to include health officials and top leadership in the state’s environmental quality division. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed criminal charges against six more state employees for their role in Flint’s water crisis, bringing the total facing trial to nine. There was a common theme to their offenses, he said in a press conference Friday.
“Each of these individuals attempted to bury, or cover up, to downplay or hide information that contradicted their own narrative. ... Their story was there was nothing wrong with Flint water and it was perfectly safe to use. These individuals concealed the truth. They were criminally wrong to do so.”
Prosecutors charged the head of the state environmental agency’s drinking water unit, Liane Shekter Smith, with withholding information about the serious health risks of drinking the water after lead contamination had begun. She is the only official who has been fired since the crisis unfolded. Two water regulators in the same division, Adam Rosenthal and Patrick Cook, were charged with falsifying water quality reports to the EPA and tampering with evidence on lead levels in the water. Cook’s emails even suggested that a whistleblowing EPA lead expert be silenced for his “over-reaches.”
Even more seriously, three employees in the state’s health department, including the manager of the early childhood health section, a data analyst, and a state epidemiologist, were all found to have concealed what they knew about the significant rise in Flint children reporting elevated lead levels in their blood.
As with the earlier set of cases brought against state officials in April, state prosecutors promised this was still only the beginning of the investigation. Meanwhile, for the families and children waiting for relief, the water in Flint is still not considered safe to drink.