As the United States continues to free-fall into tense and uncertain times, no community has had it rougher than Flint, Michigan. Since early 2014, the town’s water supply had been contaminated by lead through aging pipes, potentially exposing somewhere between 6,000 to 12,000 children to a highly dangerous water source.
When the news finally broke nationally, Americans were outraged that the government could allow toxic water to be consumed by an entire community of people. Some notable figures, such as Snoop Dogg, rose to the occasion and helped raise awareness, as well as deliver clean water to the people of Flint. As the story continues to unravel, Michigan’s attorney general Bill Schuette is continuing to punish those responsible for the hazardous conditions.
Earlier this week, Schuette announced felony charges against two former emergency managers in Flint, as well as two other additional city officials. These charges revolve around the city’s decision to switch water sources back in 2013, which is what ended up leading to the widespread lead contamination. The decision to switch to the Flint River as a water supply was seen as cost-efficient move, while they built their own pipeline was being built in the meantime. However, officials failed to ensure that the source was treated with corrosion controls, allowing lead to infiltrate the community’s drinking water.
"All too prevalent in this Flint Water Investigation was a priority on balance sheets and finances rather than health and safety of the citizens of Flint," Attorney General Schuette said in a statement.
Among those being charged are Former Emergency Managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, both of whom face up to a total of 46 years in prison. They are being charged with false pretenses, conspiracy to commit false pretense, misconduct in office, as well as willful neglect of duty while in office. Additionally, Flint's director of the Department of Public Works Howard Croft and the department’s utilities director Daugherty Johnson were also slapped with charges for false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretense.
It’s important to note the nature of the charges all center around the decision to switch Flint’s water source a few years ago. At the time, Flint was restricted from accumulating any additional debt, but Earley and Ambrose managed to obtain funds intended to address "environmental calamity" over a retention pond that was filled with lime sludge. Those funds were instead put towards the KWA pipeline, which still was not completed on time. Additionally, Earley has been accused of allowing the Flint Water Treatment Plant to produce water despite knowing it was not ready for use.
Including this new round of criminal charges, the number of those standing trial for their role in the water crisis has now reached 13. Although it’s refreshing to see the state of Michigan go after those responsible for allowing this poisoned water supply to reach the community, the people of Flint are still suffering as their water remains unsafe to drink.