First, people in Michigan found out Gov. Rick Snyder knew Flint's water system was contaminated while environmental leaders in his administration told the public there was nothing to worry about. Then, it was revealed that, while still insisting the water in Flint was safe for human consumption, the state government was providing bottled water for its employees working in Flint.
Now, critics say Snyder was caught in an outright lie.
On Jan. 13, the Republican governor said he found out a few days earlier that the contaminated water led to a spike in Legionnaires’ disease cases. But it turns out Snyder's office was aware of the link 10 months earlier in March 2015, according to emails obtained by liberal group Progress Michigan using freedom of information laws.
With the latest revelation, more people are joining the growing chorus of voices calling for the governor to step down, The Guardian reported.
The internal state government emails obtained by Progress Michigan were corroborated by other emails obtained by The Associated Press. The messages show that while state government leaders knew there was an outbreak, including at least 87 cases of Legionnaires’ disease and nine deaths attributed to the disease, state health officials did not share that information with the public, even as people in Flint complained of contaminated water and asked the state to intervene.
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The bacteria infects the lungs and can cause symptoms ranging from mild flu-like conditions to potentially fatal complications, along with coughing, muscle aches, high fever, shortness of breath and headaches. It's water-borne and usually transmitted by inhaling vapor or mist from infected water, the CDC says.
The water crisis in Flint began in April 2014 when the city switched its drinking water source from Lake Huron to the nearby Flint River in a cost-saving measure. Corrosive water from the contaminated river ate into the city's aging pipes, releasing lead into the water supply, The New York Times reported. Thousands of children in the city were exposed to the lead-contaminated water, and residents began complaining of green-, brown and yellow-stained water, as well as rashes, fevers and headaches brought on by drinking the city's tap water.
State officials continued to deny there were problems with the city's drinking water, until a study by doctors at Flint's Hurley Medical Center went public, showing the number of children with elevated levels of lead had doubled in the span of a year.
Snyder and his staff have insisted they did not know about the Legionnaires’ disease uptick, despite the volume of communication between state and local officials about the cases and their possible origins.
“Important information flow isn’t always forthcoming,” Snyder’s former chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, told local station WKAR in mid-January, according to the Guardian.
State Democrats said they weren't buying the excuses and called for Snyder to resign.
“There is a limit to how many times you can play dumb when it comes to events and actions that take place on your watch,” Brandon Dillon, the Michigan Democratic party's chairman, said in a statement. “Governor Snyder is attempting to employ this tactic again, claiming he wasn’t told of the connection, made almost a year before he informed the public, between Flint’s water and the legionella bacteria.”