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Five People Are Facing Manslaughter Charges Because Of Flint’s Water Crisis

It has been more than three years since the Flint water crisis began, and many residents are still drinking bottled water. Today, Michigan’s attorney general announced new charges related to the crisis, including a charge of involuntary manslaughter, leveled at five public officials.

After the city of Flint’s water source was changed in April 2014 from Lake Huron to the Flint River, the corrosive river water wasn’t properly treated. That water in turn ate through the protective film inside of pipes and fixtures around the city, allowing lead to leach into the drinking water of tens of thousands of residents. But corrosive water can also be a breeding ground for Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria are frequently found in the water cooling towers of large buildings such as hotels and hospitals, but they can also appear in local water systems. During the crisis, more than 100 people in Flint acquired the disease, which researchers have shown is likely a result of the improperly treated water.

One of the deaths related to Legionnaires’ led to the most severe charge handed out today, involuntary manslaughter. The charge is tied to the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, one of 12 people who died from Legionnaires’ in Flint during the summers of 2014 and 2015. Nick Lyon, director of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, was among those charged with involuntary manslaughter, as were Darnell Earley,1 former Flint emergency manager; Liane Shekter-Smith, former state drinking water chief; Howard Croft, former director of public works in Flint; and Stephen Busch, a district water supervisor for the state Department of Environmental Quality. Lyon was also charged with misconduct in office. Both charges are felonies in Michigan. More than a dozen other officials were previously charged with less serious crimes.

Skidmore died in 2015. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said at a news conference today that by that time, state officials knew about the outbreak but had not made the issue public, an action that they contend could have saved lives. Schuette also said that there are no plans to charge Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder but that officials are still investigating. He said his team has attempted to interview the governor, but “we were not successful,” the Detroit Free Press reported.

Footnotes

  1. Earley was one of several governor-appointed officials given control over the city under a controversial law that allows the governor to install managers whose power trumps that of elected officials.

Anna Maria Barry-Jester reports on public health, food and culture for FiveThirtyEight.

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