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First Criminal Charges Filed Over Flint, Mich., Water Contamination Crisis


The fisrst criminal charges have been filed over the water crisis in Flint, Mich. That's not much consolation to Flint residents, who have been drinking bottled water for months to avoid lead contamination. We'll hear from a Flint mother in a moment. First, the Michigan attorney general says this is just the start. As Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta tells us, more charges are likely.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: The question's been asked for nearly a year now - when will someone be held accountable for lead contamination of Flint's drinking water? Now, three people are being charged with crimes. Two state water quality experts and Flint's water quality supervisor are accused of misconduct, neglect of duty and falsifying the results of tests to hide the fact the city's drinking water was contaminated. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says these were public officials who had a responsibility to ensure clean and safe drinking water.


BILL SCHUETTE: They failed. They failed to discharge their duties. They failed. They failed in their responsibilities to protect the health and safety of families of Flint. They failed Michigan families. Indeed, they failed us all. I don't care where you live.

PLUTA: The two state water experts charged are Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby, both with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The charges say they misled U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials who questioned whether Flint's water was safe to drink. The charges also say they gamed the water-testing protocols. The other person charged Flint water quality supervisor Michael Glasgow, who actually tried to warn higher-ups in 2014 that the city's water plant wasn't ready to switch from using Detroit's water system to tapping the Flint River for drinking water. That decision was carried out by state-appointed emergency managers as a cost-saving measure, and ultimately that had catastrophic results. A standard water treatment process was ignored, causing lead from old pipes to leach into the drinking water. Special Assistant Attorney General Todd Flood says, even if Glasgow was acting on instructions from his superiors, he's not immune to criminal charges.


TODD FLOOD: You can't be told to do something that's wrong and do it knowing that it was wrong.

PLUTA: Glasgow faces the least-serious charges, and officials aren't ruling out plea deals in their effort to find others who are culpable. Attorney General Schuette is a Republican widely expected to run for governor in two years. He's quick to say this investigation is continuing.


SCHUETTE: These charges are only the beginning, and there'll be more to come. That I can guarantee you.

PLUTA: But what's left unsaid is who else might be charged, or what direction the investigation will take next. In addition, there are separate federal and county investigations underway. Flint resident Aaron Dunigan showed up outside this afternoon's press conference announcing the charges. Dunigan says he's not impressed. He's still waiting to see how high up the investigation goes.

AARON DUNIGAN: They're letting lower people take those charges. Now, they did say that more charges would be brought for people, but only time will tell who that really means. But until Gov. Snyder is brought charges against, I don't think that justice is being truly served.

PLUTA: That's a sentiment echoed by others here, in part because it was Gov. Rick Snyder who put the city under emergency management. The investigators did not say when or if the governor will be part of their inquiry. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Flint, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rick Pluta
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.