The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defended her agency’s response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., saying it did what it was supposed to do.
The comments came Monday, almost a week after it was reported that EPA employees knew about the potential for lead contamination in the city’s water months before medical professionals found elevated levels in children’s bloodstreams.
“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,” she said. “We know Flint is a situation that never should have happened.”
Most of the blame for the lead contamination has been placed on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and his staff, including the state's Department of Environmental Quality, whose head recently resigned.
Snyder was responsible for the decision to switch Flint to a river for its drinking water supply instead of the lake water it previously used.
His staff also repeatedly downplayed problems with the water, including smell, taste and other contaminants. Snyder has apologized.
In a Tuesday statement, the EPA said the Flint crisis “should not have happened,” and it was Michigan’s responsibility under federal law to protect safe and clean drinking water.
“While EPA worked within the framework of the law to repeatedly and urgently communicate the steps the state needed to take to properly treat its water, those necessary actions were not taken as quickly as they should have been,” the agency said.
“All levels of government — federal, state and local — must work together to find solutions for the residents of Flint and to ensure this never happens again,” it added. “The agency looks forward to our continued dialogue.”
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton excoriated Snyder for the crisis in the Sunday night Democratic presidential debate, saying that if Flint’s population were not majority black, the state would have been far more responsive.
“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,” she said. “And the governor of that state acted as though he didn’t really care.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Clinton’s top challenger, has called on Snyder to resign.
The Detroit News reported that Susan Hedman, the regional EPA head for the area that includes Michigan, warned state officials about the potential for lead contamination in April 2015.
She sought a legal opinion on whether she could take action apart from the state, but that was not completed for months, so she stayed silent on the matter.
Snyder is due to give his annual state of the state address Tuesday evening.
This story was updated at 11:43 a.m.