The FBI has joined the ranks of government agencies investigating the man-made tap water disaster in Flint, Mich. Children and other residents of the city have been affected with lead poisoning. The FBI’s involvement signals that there may be a criminal dimension to the catastrophe. There are also a number of civil lawsuits that are pending.
An FBI spokeswoman told the media last month that the FBI had joined a broad, multi-agency investigation comprised of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) criminal division, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Justice Department. The announcement confirms earlier reports indicating the FBI had become involved in the investigation.
The U.S. House Oversight Committee has also begun its first hearings on the Flint water crisis, which captured national headlines after it was revealed that several children in the city had extremely high, toxic levels of lead in their system from drinking tap water. Exposure to lead is particularly damaging to young children whose brains and other organs are still developing. Lead toxicity can damage organs, restrict brain development, lead to difficulty learning; promote emotional and behavioral problems, and more.
The problem started when state and city officials started drawing Flint’s water from the highly polluted Flint River instead of drawing from Detroit’s water system – a misguided money-saving effort. Those in charge of the switch neglected to run chemicals through the water system that would have protected them from the corrosive toxins in Flint River water. Instead, the corrosive water leeched lead from the water pipes in Flint’s aging infrastructure and delivered it to thousands of Flint homes.
In addition to lead, Flint’s water was also contaminated with toxic levels of E. coli bacteria, trihalomethanes (a chemical byproduct of water disinfectants), and Legionella, which can cause a potentially deadly form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ Disease if it is inhaled as a mist or steam.
On the state level, Flint’s water crisis is being investigated by the Michigan Attorney General’s office, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, and the office of Gov. Rick Snyder, who has been under pressure to step down for his part in the disaster.
Sources: Detroit Free Press; Associated Press; and RightingInjustice.com
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