Friday, January 08, 2016

Flint Water Protesters: Snyder Should Resign, Face Charges
Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press 8:34 p.m. EST
January 8, 2016

LANSING — About 200 people — many of them calling for  Gov. Rick Snyder to resign or face criminal charges over the lead contamination of Flint drinking water — chanted and hoisted signs Friday in a cold rain outside Flint City Hall.

Flint resident Sharon Owensby, a retired GM worker who attended the peaceful demonstration with her husband, James, said she believes Snyder had knowledge of a health risk to Flint residents long before the state acted to address it, and the governor needs to be held accountable.

"We haven't seen the worst yet, with these children coming up," Owensby said, referring to brain damage and other health effects that children can suffer as a result of lead poisoning.

"There's been a nice apology that's been way too late," said Lora Durham, a retired mathematics professor at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Although Snyder has appointed a task force to determine how the drinking water contamination took place, "if he was in jail and we served him nothing but this water, he'd be looking into it a lot quicker."

Snyder, a Republican who began his second and final four-year term in 2015 and pushed for a controversial strengthening of Michigan's emergency manager law that was used to place Flint under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager at the time the contamination took place, has twice apologized for the state's role in the catastrophe but has urged people to await the results of ongoing investigations.

"It's disappointing that some groups would use such rhetoric and aren't instead focused on joining the collaborative effort to make sure all Flint residents have access to safe clean water," Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Friday. "As Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said on Thursday, this is a partnership, and we're looking at how we all can move Flint forward."

The group We the People of Detroit trucked about 800 cases of water to the rally for distribution to those in need. More action, including federal help, is needed to address the "manmade disaster," said spokeswoman Monica Lewis-Patrick.

The demonstration was organized by several groups in Flint and Detroit, including Water You Fighting For, the Detroit Light Brigade and the People's Water Board.

Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in 2014 after its supply source was switched from Lake Huron water provided by what was then the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the more polluted and corrosive Flint River.

The cost-cutting move resulted in a spike in lead levels in children. A recent preliminary report from a task force appointed by Snyder placed most of the blame on the state Department of Environmental Quality and prompted the Dec. 29 resignation of DEQ Director Dan Wyant.

Although the state assisted the city in moving its source of drinking water back to Lake Huron water supplied by Detroit in October, concerns about contamination remain because the river water damaged pipes and other infrastructure. A state health official told Flint residents on Thursday to either drink bottled water or use a filter that can remove lead. She also urged residents with children younger than 6 to immediately have their kids tested to determine the level of lead in their blood.

In addition to the task force appointed by Snyder, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit is assisting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with an investigation.

Earlier Friday, members of the Genesee County Sheriff's Department, the sheriff's reserve and the Red Cross, assisted by jail inmates on work release, distributed free water filters and jugs of purified water to Flint residents in an economically depressed area north of downtown.

"It makes me angry," but "the majority of people don't care," said Amado Saldana Sr., 62, a GM retiree who lives with his two dogs and said he will install his free water filter on his kitchen tap.

Saldana said he's had his water shut off twice for getting behind on his bill and thinks Flint residents should receive refunds for the length of time the water was being drawn from the corrosive Flint River, given that they have faced the expense of buying bottle water.

He said he didn't drink the Flint River water because "you could look at it and see it was nasty."

Harry Tisdale, 61, another GM retiree, lives with his wife and three granddaughters, ages 10, 5 and 4.

Tisdale said he hasn't been drinking the water and doesn't think the children have been either. But he said he plans to get them tested to make sure.

Russell Franklin, 58, who is on disability assistance, said he will install his free filter to provide cleaner water for washing dishes, but he still won't drink the tap water.

He's had to spend about $20 a month on bottled water, on top of his $89 monthly water bill, he said.

"I trust the government, but it just seems like they're not looking out for us," he said.

Bryant Nolden, vice chairman of the Genesee County Board of Commissioners, who was helping with the distribution Friday, said many Flint residents don't want to drink the water, even with filters that state health officials say will make the water safe, if properly installed.

"There's still a lot of apprehension," he said.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.

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