Michigan has charged former governor Rick Snyder following a new investigation into the Flint water crisis, reports the BBC. He is accused of wilful neglect of duty. Another eight defendants have been indicted for their role in the crisis. The sate’s former health director faces nine charges of involuntary manslaughter.
The Flint water crisis made the global news as one of the worst man-caused environmental disasters in recent years in the United States, where the drinking water in the city of Flint, Michigan, became contaminated with lead.
The water crisis in the city of Flint dates back to 2014. At the time the city changed its water supply to the Flint River, to save millions of dollars. Water from the river was more corrosive than the previous water source: the water system of the city of Detroit, sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. Without treatment to inhibit corrosion, lead from ageing pipes ended in the water supply, exposing residents to this powerful neurotoxin. The water supply change was also considered a possible cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that killed 12 people.
Even though residents complained about the water, local officials denied problems for over a year. Finally the city changed back to the Detroit water system in October 2015, and in 2016 Governor Snyder apologised and recognised the government had failed the city. A state of emergency was declared in Flint, bringing in federal aid money.
The population of Flint is predominantly working-class, African American. A report by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission said systemic racism was at the core of problems that lead to the water crisis.
Efforts to replace lead pipes haven underway since 2016, but many locals don’t trust the water is safe and use bottled water for drinking, cooking and washing. Victims filed lawsuits against the state of Michigan over the crisis and a combined settlement of $600 million was awarded last year.