By Paul Egan
Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday night activated the Michigan National Guard to assist with the ongoing crisis of the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water.
"As we work to ensure that all Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water, we are providing them with the direct assistance they need in order to stretch our resources further," Snyder said in a news release late Tuesday.
"The Michigan National Guard is trained and ready to assist the citizens of Flint."
Members of the National Guard are expected to staff fire stations and distribute bottles of water and water filters, freeing members of the American Red Cross to handle the door-to-door distribution of those items, Snyder Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen said. There were no immediate plans to use tanker trucks to distribute water, he said.
The Guard was last activated in Michigan in 2012 to assist with the Duck Lake Fire.
Some National Guard members will get to Flint Wednesday and the number deployed is expected to increase to more than 30 by Friday, Agen said.
Snyder also on Tuesday asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate responses to the Flint crisis by other federal agencies.
"This request will identify federal agencies that have programs, authorities and/or technical expertise that could be utilized in the ongoing response and recovery efforts in Flint to be made available," according to a statement issued by the governor's office.
"Such federal agencies may include the Department of Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Army Corps of Engineers."
Snyder issued the executive order to mobilize the Guard amid ongoing criticism that he and his administration have moved too slowly to respond to the crisis. The request for a larger role by FEMA stops short of asking for federal financial aid, which Snyder officials have said requires more time.
Rafael Lemaitre, FEMA's director of public affairs, said on Twitter the agency has approved Snyder's request for additional help and has appointed a federal disaster recovery coordinator to support Michigan's efforts.
Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in 2014 after its supply source was switched from Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to water from the Flint River treated at the city water treatment plant.
Immediate complaints about the odor, smell and taste of the water were downplayed and largely ignored by the state before the Department of Environmental Quality acknowledge in October it had failed to require the addition of needed corrosion control chemicals, resulting in lead leaching from pipes and fixtures into the water.
Lead causes permanent brain damage in children and is linked to other health and behavior problems.
Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint and Genesee County on Jan. 5. On Tuesday, the Michigan State Police and other officials began distributing bottled water and water filters to remove lead, door-to-door in Flint. The state also has urged all Flint parents with children younger than 6 to have their childrens' blood tested for exposure to lead.
The latest moves, though welcomed by advocates for Flint, did not halt criticism of Snyder's emergency response.
"I trust that the good men and women of the National Guard will jump start the Snyder administration's lackluster response to this public health crisis," Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said in a news release.
"Sadly, myself and many leaders of my community have advocated for this type of response for months."
U..S. Rep Dan Kildee, D-Flint, said the moves were overdue and renewed his earlier calls for a request for federal financial aid for Flint, "due to the lack of a sufficient response from the state."
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