Just as Flint residents began to realise the severity of their water crisis, US public health officials became alarmed about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which ended up killing nine people in the city. Emails just made public show that Michigan leaders were made aware of the connection between lead and the disease almost a year ago, but did nothing to take action for many more months.
Although many of Governor Rick Snyder’s emails about the water situation were recently made public, Progress Michigan filed an public information request for additional emails and released them to the Associated Press today. The most damning email came from the environmental health supervisor for Genesee County, Jim Henry, who alerted Flint leaders as well as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, known as the MDEQ, on 15 March 2015 — long before Flint residents were informed about the severity of the water crisis:
The increase of the illnesses closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to the Flint River water. The majority of the cases reside or have an association with the city…
This situation has been explicitly explained to MDEQ and many of the city’s officials. I want to make sure in writing that there are no misunderstandings regarding this significant and urgent public health issue.
Although it has been suspected that the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was caused by the switch in water sources, there was previously no evidence that the state was aware of that connection. Now we know that the government was warned about the link between the water and the outbreak, and leaders did nothing to stop it, or inform the public.
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the Legionella bacteria which can be inhaled through mist or steam from contaminated water sources. Eighty-seven cases were reported in the county over 17 months, about half of which originated at a single Flint hospital.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File