The researcher who first uncovered lead in the water of dozens of homes in Flint, Michigan, and was pooh-poohed by government officials is now being brought in to determine when it's safe for people to drink from their taps.
The city has hired Marc Edwards to oversee all water testing, a "fully independent" process that is being funded by private donations, Mayor Karen Weaver announced at a Wednesday press conference.
Edwards, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, began working with a Flint resident last spring to determine if the water was toxic.
The test results were so disturbing, he stood outside City Hall and urged residents not to drink what was coming out of their taps.
Emails that have been released or obtained through freedom of information requests show that state officials dismissed and downplayed Edwards' warnings.
A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said in an email to a reporter that Edwards and his team — who had crusaded against contamination in Washington D.C.'s water — were known to "pull that rabbit out of that hat everywhere they go."
Another email, from Gov. Rick Snyder's then-Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore in September, referred to those raising the alarm as "the anti-everything group."
At Monday's press conference, Snyder called Edwards one of the "heroes" of the crisis.
The embattled governor announced a series of new actions to address the water crisis, which has spawned two criminal investigations and a federal emergency declaration.
- The state asked the feds to expand Medicaid to anyone under 21 who was exposed to lead to pay for health care monitoring and services they will need for years to come.
- The governor is opening an office in Flint that will work with local officials.
- The state Senate is expected to approve a $28 million supplemental budget request earmarked for the water crisis. That includes $3 million that can be used for water bill relief for residents.
"I have told Gov. Snyder that Flint residents should not have to pay for water they should not and are not using," Weaver said.
She said many Flint residents had stopped paying their bills, creating a financial problem for the cash-strapped city. It was unclear how the $3 million, which covers just a fraction of the city's water budget, would be used.
Another $8 million will cover the cost of bottled water being given to residents until the water is declared safe to drink.
The press conference came to an abrupt end when Snyder was asked a question about why he was using a special non-profit "social welfare" fund to pay for an out-of-state public relations firm instead of using the money to pay for staff working directly on water issues.