Quantcast

EPA Watchdog Finds Agency Failed in Flint Water Crisis

Health + Wellness
Susan Hedman, administrator of EPA's Region 5 during the Flint water crisis, testifies before congress. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) internal watchdog organization published Thursday argued that the EPA needed to step up its monitoring of state drinking water in the aftermath of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, CBS reported.


The report, conducted by the EPA's Office of the Inspector General, found that EPA's Region 5 office, which oversees six Midwestern states including Michigan, made the crisis worse by failing to take advantage of its powers under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Mother Jones reported.

"While oversight authority is vital, its absence can contribute to a catastrophic situation," EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins said in a news release reported by CBS. "This report urges the EPA to strengthen its oversight of state drinking water programs now so that the agency can act quickly in times of emergency."

The Flint water crisis started when the city changed its water supply to the Flint River, which had highly corrosive water that leached lead from the pipes, contaminating the water that came out of residents' taps.

Before the water crisis had even begun, the EPA had reason to believe that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) was not doing its job properly. In 2010, an EPA contractor found 10 SWDA requirements that the MDEQ was not following, CNN reported.

But Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman still relied on the MDEQ to act when the EPA's Midwest water division manager Miguel Del Toral told his supervisors that the Flint River water was not properly treated in 2015, Mother Jones reported.

Hedman has since resigned.

The EPA received a total of 87 citizen complaints over a year and a half before it issued an emergency order in January 2016. The report found the agency issued the order seven months after it would have had the "authority and sufficient information," according to CNN.

"We believe that this was predominantly a management issue at the regional level," Director for Water Program Evaluations at the EPA Office of the Inspector General Katie Butler told CNN. "The combination of pieces of information should have given them a hint that something serious was happening in Flint."

The report concludes with a series of recommendations including writing a clear document stating the responsibilities of regional EPA and Michigan state officials and developing a set escalation policy for EPA intervention in states in response to crises.

The report's call for greater EPA oversight comes at a time when the agency is rolling back regulations under the Trump administration, both by changing policy and by failing to act on public health issues.

In May, for example, the agency came under fire for working with the White House to hold back a government report on toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) polluting drinking water around the country.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pick one of these nine activism styles, and you can start making change. YES! Illustrations by Delphine Lee

By Cathy Brown

Most of us have heard about UN researchers warning that we need to make dramatic changes in the next 12 years to limit our risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty caused by climate change. Report after report about a bleak climate future can leave people in despair.

Read More Show Less
Jamie Grill Photography / Getty Images

Losing weight, improving heart health and decreasing your chances for metabolic diseases like diabetes may be as simple as cutting back on a handful of Oreos or saying no to a side of fries, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
A boy gives an impromptu speech about him not wanting to die in the next 10 years during the protest on July 15. The Scottish wing of the Extinction Rebellion environmental group of Scotland locked down Glasgow's Trongate for 12 hours in protest of climate change. Stewart Kirby / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

It's important to remember that one person can make a difference. From teenagers to world-renowned scientists, individuals are inspiring positive shifts around the world. Maybe you won't become a hard-core activist, but this list of people below can inspire simple ways to kickstart better habits. Here are seven people advocating for a better planet.

Read More Show Less
A group of wind turbines in a field in Banffshire, Northeast Scotland. Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Scotland produced enough power from wind turbines in the first half of 2019, that it could power Scotland twice over. Put another way, it's enough energy to power all of Scotland and most of Northern England, according to the BBC — an impressive step for the United Kingdom, which pledged to be carbon neutral in 30 years.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Beekeeper Jeff Anderson works with members of his family in this photo from 2014. He once employed all of his adult children but can no longer afford to do so. CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

It's been a particularly terrible summer for bees. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is allowing the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor back on the market. And just a few weeks prior, the USDA announced it is suspending data collection for its annual honeybee survey, which tracks honeybee populations across the U.S., providing critical information to farmers and scientists.

Read More Show Less

tommaso79 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Rachel Licker

As a new mom, I've had to think about heat safety in many new ways since pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable to extreme heat.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

It's easy to get confused about which foods are healthy and which aren't.

Read More Show Less