HHS to lead federal response to Flint crisis

HHS to lead federal response to Flint crisis
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The Department of Health and Human Services will coordinate the federal response to the growing emergency over contaminated drinking water in Flint, Mich. 

The agency said Tuesday that officials will work to “help state and local leaders identify the size and scope of the problem, and work with them to make and execute a plan for mitigation of the short- and long-term health effects of lead exposure.”

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President Obama declared a state of emergency for Flint and its surrounding areas on Saturday, opening the door to federal funding and staffing to support on-the-ground efforts in the region. Obama is expected to meet with Flint’s mayor this week. 

The city has seen growing lead levels in its drinking water since switching its water source from the Detroit municipal system to the Flint River. 

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) declared a state of emergency there earlier this month and last week activated the National Guard to help distribute bottled water and other supplies to citizens. 

Snyder’s response to the incident has been criticized, and he’s expected to address Flint’s problems in his State of the State address on Tuesday night. Federal agencies, too, have had to defend their handling of the matter.

The HHS team will arrive in Flint this week, the agency said. Nicole Lurie, HHS's assistant secretary for preparedness and response, will lead the response effort.

In a statement, HHS noted that federal agencies have already worked to assist state and local officials responding to the emergency, especially by providing technical assistance for state departments and first responders.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing bottled water to the city, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to reduce lead levels in drinking water, HHS said.