FLINT, Mich. (AP) – An official with Flint’s water plant said Tuesday he had planned to treat the drinking water with anti-corrosive chemicals after the city began drawing from the Flint River but was overruled by a state environmental regulator.
Mike Glasgow, then a supervisor at the plant and now the municipal utilities administrator, said he received the instruction from district engineer Mike Prysby of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality during a meeting to discuss the final steps before Flint switched from the Detroit water system as a cost-saving measure in April 2014.
Glasgow said Prysby told him a year of water testing was required before a decision could be made on whether corrosion controls were needed, which the state DEQ has since acknowledged was a misreading of federal regulations on preventing lead and copper pollution. The omission enabled lead to leach from aging pipes and fixtures and contaminate tap water that reached some homes, businesses and schools.
“I did have some concerns and misgivings at first,” Glasgow said before a joint legislative committee investigating the Flint water crisis. “But unfortunately, now that I look back, I relied on engineers and the state regulators to kind of direct the decision. I looked at them as having more knowledge than myself.”
He added, “Now when I look back and as I move forward, wherever my career takes me, you can believe I will question some of the decisions of regulators above me in the future.”
Lee-Anne Walters, who helped draw official attention to the problem after high lead levels were discovered in her house, told The Associated Press that hearing of the DEQ official’s instruction to the city made her “nauseous.”
“That one meeting was the difference between this city being poisoned and not being poisoned,” she said.
A task force appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder last week described the state as “fundamentally accountable” for Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis, partly because of the decision on corrosion controls. The group’s report said the DEQ was primarily to blame, while the state Department of Health and Human Service and local and federal officials also made mistakes.
Prysby has declined previous interview requests from The Associated Press. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Flint, an impoverished city of nearly 100,000, was under control of emergency managers appointed by Snyder when decisions were made to switch the water sources and later to forgo corrosion treatments.
Glasgow said he wasn’t consulted about the change in water sources and considered it a bad move. It followed a lengthy debate over whether the city should continue buying water from Detroit as it struggled to pay its bills.
He also wrote an email to a DEQ official a few weeks before the switchover, complaining that the process was moving too quickly and saying his staff needed more training. The plant had about 40 employees when he began working there in 2005, he said, but only 26 when it began treating and distributing Flint River water.
Even so, “I felt we had marching orders to go ahead,” he said.
Had Flint decided to add phosphorus to the water to prevent corrosion as Detroit had done, there would have been a delay of up to six months to install the necessary equipment at the Flint plant, Glasgow said.
In an interview after testifying, he said he felt partially responsible for the debacle because he didn’t challenge Prysby’s instructions despite having doubts.
“I should have asked a lot more questions instead of going along,” he said.
After a Virginia Tech professor and a local doctor went public with their findings that Flint’s water had high lead readings, the city was returned to the Detroit system last October. Snyder has apologized for the state’s failings but has rejected critics’ demands to resign, which numerous Flint residents echoed during Tuesday’s hearing. They also demanded more funding to replace the city’s water pipes and care for people who have suffered.