Governor charged in Flint water poisoning

January 31, 2021

From the January-February 2021 issue of News & Letters

Flint, Mich.—Rick Snyder, the former Governor of Michigan, has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty. An internal e-mail by Governor Snyder’s former chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, suggested that the governor was aware of the serious lead problem in Flint’s tap water while the state Department of Environmental Quality was telling Flint residents that the water was safe.


On Jan. 14 Snyder entered the Genesee County jail through a back entrance for his booking and arraignment. Humiliating as this was, Mr. Snyder escaped the more serious charges facing other defendants. Two are charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The manslaughter counts arise from the death of two men in their eighties from Legionnaires’ Disease, which is a severe form of pneumonia. Prompt treatment with antibiotics usually cures it, although some people experience problems after treatment.

These charges all stem from the decision by Flint’s former emergency manager, appointed by Snyder, to save money in 2014 by taking water from the Flint River rather than buying water from Detroit. Detroit gets its water from Lake Huron, and a pipeline was installed many years ago by the Detroit system so that Flint would get water from Lake Huron. Flint, like many cities, had lead pipe service lines to residences.

The water from Lake Huron did not corrode the lead pipes. However, water from the Flint River was polluted with corrosive elements that caused the lead in the pipes to enter the water and exposed the people of Flint to elevated levels of lead, which especially harmed children.

—Dan B.

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