FLINT, Mich. — An official with Flint’s water plant said Tuesday he had planned to treat the drinking water with anti-corrosive chemicals after the city began drawing from the Flint River but was overruled by a state environmental regulator.
Mike Glasgow, then a supervisor at the plant and now the municipal utilities administrator, said he received the instruction from district engineer Mike Prysby of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality during a meeting to discuss the final steps before Flint switched from the Detroit water system as a cost-saving measure in April 2014.
Glasgow said Prysby told him a year of water testing was required before a decision could be made on whether corrosion controls were needed, which the state DEQ has since acknowledged was a misreading of federal regulations on preventing lead and copper pollution. The omission enabled lead to leach from aging pipes and fixtures and contaminate tap water that reached some homes, businesses and schools.
"I did have some concerns and misgivings at first," Glasgow said before a joint legislative committee investigating the Flint water crisis. "But unfortunately, now that I look back, I relied on engineers and the state regulators to kind of direct the decision. I looked at them as having more knowledge than myself."
He added, "Now when I look back and as I move forward, wherever my career takes me, you can believe I will question some of the decisions of regulators above me in the future."
Lee Anne Walters, who helped draw official attention to the problem after high lead levels were discovered in her house, told The Associated Press that hearing of the DEQ official’s instruction to the city made her "nauseous."
"That one meeting was the difference between this city being poisoned and not being poisoned," she said.
A task force appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder last week described the state as "fundamentally accountable" for Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis, partly because of the decision on corrosion controls. The group’s report said the DEQ was primarily to blame, while the state Department of Health and Human Service and local and federal officials also made mistakes.
Flint, an impoverished city of nearly 100,000, was under control of emergency managers appointed by Snyder when decisions were made to switch the water sources and later to forgo corrosion treatments.