President Obama has declared a state of emergency in response to the water crisis in
Flint, Mich., where thousands of residents have been exposed to toxic amounts of lead.
The president’s action on Saturday authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency” in
Genesee County. FEMA can provide up to $5 million in federal aid to help provide water, filters, and other items for up to 90 days to residents whose water has been contaminated since the city switched water supplies in a cost-cutting move in 2014.
The declaration was requested on Thursday by Gov.
Rick Snyder, a Republican, who had also sought a major disaster declaration and asked for nearly $96 million to be expedited for relief efforts. A disaster declaration would have freed up more federal aid, but Flint’s problem did not qualify because it was a man-made disaster.
Flint, which had long received water from
Lake Huron provided by Detroit’s water utility, began drawing its water from the Flint River in 2014in an effort to save money while a new pipeline was built. Residents sooncomplained about rashes and strange odors from the river water, but city and state officials mostly insisted that it was safe to drink. Last year,elevated levels of lead were found in children’s blood. In October, Flint switched back to Detroit’s water system.
Officials remain concerned that damaged pipes could continue to leach lead, which can cause cognitive damage in children and kidney issues in adults. State officials were also investigating whether the contaminated water was connected to a recent outbreak of
Legionnaire’s disease that has killed 10 people. Michigan’s attorney general is also investigating the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water.
Flint is a city of about 100,000 plagued by poverty, aging infrastructure and a declining population. In his request, Governor Snyder estimated the cost of replacing Flint’s water infrastructure at $767 million, according to The Detroit News.
His administration has come under criticism for not recognizing the severity of the water problem in Flint sooner and moving too slowly to address it. The governor declared a state emergency on Jan. 5, and asked for federal help nine days later.
Dan Kildee, a Democrat, whose district includes Flint, had pushed for a disaster declaration for months. On Saturday, he welcomed the emergency declaration and blamed the state for creating the water crisis.
“I welcome the president’s quick action in support of the people of Flint after months of inaction by the governor,” he said in a statement. “The residents and children of Flint deserve every resource available to make sure that they have safe water and are able to recover from this terrible man-made disaster created by the state.”
Governor Snyder has defended his handling of the water situation in Flint. In an interview with Time magazine on Thursday, he said: “As soon as I became aware of elevated lead levels in blood, we took action.”
But that did not satisfy many of his critics, including
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate, who on Saturday called for the governor’s resignation.
“Because of the conduct by Governor Snyder’s administration and his refusal to take responsibility, families will suffer from lead poisoning for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Sanders said in a statement. “Children in Flint will be plagued with brain damage and other health problems. The people of Flint deserve more than an apology.”