By Paul Egan
Faced with a public health and infrastructure crisis in Flint that could take years to fully resolve, Gov. Rick Snyder signed an executive order on Monday to create an inter-agency committee to work on "long-term solutions to the Flint water situation and ongoing public health concerns affecting residents."
Critics continued to say Snyder is responding to the lead contamination problem too slowly.
Snyder said in a news release the work of the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee will be in addition to immediate steps that are under way, such as distributing bottled water and filters that remove lead from water, and arranging for children to be blood-tested for exposure to lead poisoning.
"We need to focus on improving Flint for the longer term," Snyder said. "This committee, made up of experts from government and the Flint community, will set a course of action to remedy the water situation and resulting health issues, and carry on long after the emergency declaration expires."
Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint and Genesee County on Jan. 5,. mobilizing the Michigan State Police and other agencies to work alongside non-profits and other groups to help get safe drinking water to city residents and address immediate health concerns. Three liaison officers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are in Michigan providing technical assistance, but Snyder has not made a request for federal financial aid.
Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in April of 2014 when the city switched its drinking water from Lake Huron water treated at the Detroit water treatment plan to more corrosive and polluted Flint River water treated at the Flint water treatment plant. The city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager at the time and the state Department of Environmental Quality acknowledged it failed to make sure the city added corrosion control chemicals that would have stopped lead from leaching into the water from pipes and fixtures.
The state helped Flint switch back to Detroit water in October, but a health hazard persists because of damage the Flint River water did to the city's water distribution infrastructure.
The new 17-member committee will include representatives from the state, Genesee County, the City of Flint and experts on particular subjects, Snyder said. "The group will analyze any long-term effects of high lead levels in Flint residents and recommend action," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Fllint, said Monday that creation of the committee is a positive step, but it's one he asked for in September. The Snyder administration has acted too slowly since acknowledging mistakes in October, he said.
"People are still getting exposed to lead for the first time, and that's unacceptable," Ananich said.
"They're treating it like it's a political problem and a public relations problem, and it's not, it's a public health crisis.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, sent letters about the crisis Monday to President Barack Obama and to Snyder and said the state's response has been inadeqauate.
"In November, I wrote to you encouraging the state to request assistance from federal agencies," Kildee said in the letter to Snyder.
"To date, federal assistance has not been requested by the state. Since in my opinion the state's response to the ongoing crisis has been inadequate, I reached out to the White House today to request assistance with any additional federal resources that may be available."
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