Saturday, February 13, 2016

In Email, Snyder Ordered Dept. Of Environmental Quality To Withhold Flint Lead Results

From Michigan Live: Gov. Rick Snyder and other state officials allegedly withheld lead testing results from county health officials while they worked to find ways to present the information to the public, according to emails obtained by The Flint Journal.

‘…Gov. Rick Snyder and other state officials allegedly withheld lead testing results from county health officials while they worked to find ways to present the information to the public, according to emails obtained by The Flint Journal.
Local health officials say the governor and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality withheld lead testing results, including results from a Flint elementary school, while the agency discussed the best way to present the information to the public.
But, Snyder’s office said Wednesday, Feb. 10, that information was shared quickly after testing and denied withholding any information
Emails obtained this week from the Genesee County Health Department through the Freedom of Information Act show growing frustration on the county’s part as it attempted to obtain information from the DEQ.
“MDEQ explained that the Governor prohibited releasing all Genesee County lead results until after the press conference,” wrote Jim Henry,Genesee County’s environmental health supervisor.
Henry, in an interview Wednesday, said county officials didn’t learn of the test results until they were distributed following a press conference.
“They should have alerted the schools and they didn’t,” Henry said.
Gov. Rick Snyder announced Oct. 8 during a press conference that three buildings within the Flint School District tested above the federal limits for lead in the drinking water, including results of more than six times the federally allowable level at Freeman Elementary School.
The announcement included a plan to buy nine months of water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to end the city’s reliance on the Flint River as its drinking water source.
An additional $4 million was requested for efforts to address immediate lead issues, including further testing of children in Flint school buildings where the high lead rates were discovered.
Following the announcement, a meeting was held Oct. 16 with DEQ officials, including then drinking water chief Liane Shekter Smith, and Henry, according to the emails.
According to an Oct. 18 email Henry wrote to county Health Officer Mark Valacak summarizing the meeting, DEQ apologized for not releasing school lead results in a timely manner and claimed they were ordered by Snyder to delay the release.
The governor’s office, when asked Wednesday denied they ordered the DEQ to delay releasing any information, but said the start of testing and announcement were only six days apart.
“The email seems to reflect someone summarizing a discussion at a meeting, and we are unsure what actually was said there,” Snyder Press Secretary Dave Murray said. “We do know that the testing began on Oct. 2, it took some time to test 13 buildings, action was taken immediately and the Governor held a press conference in Flint to discuss the results on Oct. 8. There was no delay during that time period.
“People were quickly informed of the results in the schools, and that action on the fixtures with elevated levels was taken immediately.”
The DEQ announced three days after the meeting that Shekter Smith was being reassigned. She was eventually suspended and ultimately fired Feb. 5.
However, the emails allege that the delays in test results didn’t end there. Further testing was conducted at Freeman Elementary during the last week of October.
Henry emailed the DEQ’s Laboratory Director George Krisztian on Nov. 3 and requested all lead testing results for water at Freeman Elementary. He added that his request should be treated as a FOIA request.
Krisztian declined the request, saying the samples collected from the school on Oct. 24 presented an “incomplete picture of the plumbing system” and that samples collected on Oct. 31 wouldn’t be ready until Nov. 4, according to the emails.
“I am hoping to either have a conference call or a meeting in Flint with all the partners to review the results and discuss how we will present the information to the public,” Krisztian wrote.
On Nov. 6, Henry again emailed Valacak, claiming he had talked with Krisztian and that Krisztian told him he had been instructed to withhold the information until the FOIA deadline of Dec. 2.
“MDEQ reminds me of a stubborn 2yr old child,” Henry wrote. “Instead of doing what is right, they’ll willfully take another spanking just to be defiant….”‘

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