EPA head: Flint water crisis is personal

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyDozens of senators push EPA for higher ethanol mandate The Hill's 12:30 Report Overnight Energy: Obama signs chemical safety reform into law MORE says she’s taking the Flint water crisis “much more personally” than other controversies. 

Speaking at an event at Harvard University on Monday, McCarthy compared Flint, where lead levels have spiked in local drinking water, to the blowout of an abandoned gold mine in Colorado. 

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The EPA has taken heat for its reaction to — and role in — both incidents: a team of EPA contractors was responsible for the toxic waste spill in Colorado and agency officials knew about the dangers facing Flint months before the information went public. But Flint, McCarthy said, is a bigger, more personal problem because of the impact the drinking water will have on citizens.    

“EPA didn’t find this out until quite late in the game,” she said. “And now, when you have kids exposed to lead, that’s a whole different ball game than worrying about iron in the river. That’s real damage that you can’t get back.”

Lawmakers have criticized the EPA’s response to both incidents, calling McCarthy and other officials to Congress to testify on the agency’s role in Flint and the Gold King Mine blowout. 

The EPA took responsibility for the mine waste spill, which dumped 3 million gallons of toxic sludge into the Animas River last August. A GOP report concluded this month that an EPA official “personally knew” about the risk of a spill there. 

“I went down there and said, it’s EPA’s problem and we’re going to fix it,” McCarthy said Monday. 

In Flint, the agency knew as early as last April that there were no corrosion controls for the city’s water supply. The agency told local officials about their research, but the EPA has maintained, and McCarthy has said, that it wasn’t able to do anything more than that.  

The House has passed a bill directing the EPA to release information like that publicly in the future. McCarthy will testify before the House Oversight Committee next month on her agency’s handling of the crisis. 

McCarthy said the EPA’s job in Flint, now, is to continue monitoring chemical levels in the water and making sure it’s safe for drinking going forward. Other federal agencies, she noted, are in the state focusing on the health impacts of the drinking water. 

“The challenge for EPA is also: we need to make sure our rules make sure this never happens again,” she said Monday.