President Barack Obama on Saturday declared a state of emergency in Flint, Michigan, where officials allegedly ignored the detriments of a water source that exposed nearly everyone in the city to lead poisoning and other contaminants.
The White House issued a release calling for the Federal Emergency Management Agency “to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Genesee County,” where residents have been warned not to drink unfiltered tap water.
FEMA will deliver water, water filters, water filter cartridges, water test kits, “and other necessary related items” for about three months, the release said.
The emergency declaration follows a request on Friday from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has been under fire for his handling of the crisis.
The situation dates back to April 2014 when Flint switched water sources to save money. The new supply, from the Flint River, was saltier and flowed through corroded pipes, pulling lead into the system.
Snyder thanked Obama for the emergency declaration and for “supporting Flint during this critical situation” in a statement Saturday, but said an additional request for a major disaster declaration was denied.
A major disaster declaration is used after a “natural event” like a tornado earthquake or landslide, or after an explosion, fire or flood regardless of cause, according to FEMA.
“I have pledged to use all state resources possible to help heal Flint, and these additional resources will greatly assist in efforts underway to ensure every resident has access to clean water resources,” Snyder said in the statement.
Residents began complaining about the taste, smell and appearance of the water, and recent tests have shown elevated lead levels in the blood of some local children.
Also Friday, Michigan’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Bill Schuette,announced an investigation to determine if any laws were broken in the months following the switch in water source.
Federal prosecutors are already probing the debacle and the state’s health department has just started investigating whether an increase of Legionnaires’ disease cases — seven of them fatal — could be linked to the water.
“The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water,” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders alleged Saturday, calling for Snyder to resign.
“Because of the conduct by Gov. Snyder’s administration, families will suffer from lead poisoning for the rest of their lives,” Sanders said in a statement. “The people of Flint deserve more than an apology.”