FLINT, Mich.—The Flint water crisis became a criminal case Wednesday when two state regulators and a city employee were charged with official misconduct, evidence-tampering, and other offenses over the lead contamination that has alarmed parents and brought cries of racism.
“This is a road back to restoring faith and confidence in all Michigan families in their government,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in announcing the charges, months after officials conceded a series of bad decisions caused the disaster.
He warned there will be more charges—”That I can guarantee”—and added: “No one is off the table.”
— Kevin Dietz (@kdietzlocal4) April 20, 2016
For nearly 18 months, the poor, mostly black city of 100,000 used the Flint River for tap water as a way to save money—a decision made by a state-appointed emergency manager—while a new pipeline was under construction. But the water wasn’t treated to control corrosion. The result: Lead was released from aging pipes and fixtures as water flowed into homes and businesses.
Gov. Rick Snyder didn’t acknowledge the problem until last fall, when tests revealed high levels of lead in children, in whom the heavy metal can cause low IQs and behavioral problems.
Michael Prysby, a district engineer with the state Department of Environmental Quality, and Stephen Busch, a supervisor in the department’s drinking water office, were charged with misconduct, conspiracy, tampering with test results and misdemeanor violations of clean-water law. The felonies carry maximum penalties of four to five years in prison.
They were both accused of failing to order chemicals added to the water to coat the pipes and prevent them from releasing lead.
Flint utilities administrator Michael Glasgow also was charged Wednesday with tampering with evidence for allegedly falsifying lead water-testing results and with willful neglect of duty.
The three could not immediately be reached for comment. It wasn’t known if they have lawyers.
Busch is on paid leave. Prysby recently took another job in the agency.
“They failed Michigan families. Indeed, they failed us all,” Schuette said. “I don’t care where you live.”