The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday defended the Obama administration’s handling of a crisis in Flint, Michigan with lead-contaminated drinking water.
Speaking to reporters after an event at a Washington soup kitchen, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy defended the federal government’s response.
“EPA did its job but clearly the outcome was not what anyone would have wanted. So we’re going to work with the state, we’re going to work with Flint. We’re going to take care of the problem,” McCarthy told reporters. “We know Flint is a situation that never should have happened.”
She said EPA has established a task force of experts and is conducting an audit of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s water program “to make sure whatever improvements need to be made get made and get done quickly.”
Flint, about 60 miles (100 km) northwest of Detroit, returned to using Detroit’s water in October after tests found elevated levels of lead in the water and in the blood of some children. Lead contamination can cause brain damage and other health problems.
On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s handling of the crisis. She suggested that if the problem had occurred in a wealthy, predominantly white suburb of Detroit “there would have been action.”
“We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways and majority African-American, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water. And the governor of that state acted as though he didn’t really care,” she said at a televised debate.
Snyder has apologized for the state’s handling of the crisis as calls for him to resign have grown over the last week, including from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
On Saturday, President Obama declared a federal emergency over the Flint water crisis. But he denied an additional request for a major disaster declaration sought by Snyder.
Obama ordered federal aid for state and local efforts in Genesee County, where Flint, a city of just under 100,000 residents, is located.
The financially-strapped city was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its source of tap water from Detroit’s system to the nearby Flint River in April 2014 in a cost-cutting move.
The more corrosive water from the Flint River leached lead from city pipes more than Detroit water did, leading to the current problems.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski)