The Monsters Who Ate Flint

The only heroes emerging from the water crisis are the people operating outside of government—who demanded truth and found a way to make a difference.

Andrew Harnik / AP

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, whose administration poisoned the people of Flint by leaving a cheap additive out of the drinking water, said he was sorry—again.

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, whose agency covered up the toxic blunder in Flint and for years ignored warnings of a nationwide lead-water crisis, bizarrely argued that this was all Snyder’s fault. No apologies.

Snyder and McCarthy testified Thursday before a committee of Democratic and Republican lawmakers grandstanding for the television cameras, reading talking points drafted by political operatives—Democrats attacking Snyder, Republicans attacking McCarthy. Congress has yet to offer a single dollar to help fix Flint.

Most media organization treated the hearing like a he-said, she-said story, but one report stood out for me: a nearly 13-minute segment on PBS NewsHour anchored by Judy Woodruff. “It’s impossible to separate [the water crisis] from the politics,” she said, “but we’ll try.”

Then she interviewed Marc Edwards, the hero-researcher at Virginia Tech whose team helped expose malfeasance at every level of government. At the 6:30 mark here, Edwards succinctly and powerfully cuts through the BS.

Judy Woodruff: What would you add to where the responsibility lies here?

Marc Edwards: It’s very clear that Governor Snyder was guilty of not listening to the complaints of residents of Flint and he was guilty of being overly trusting of both the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA, and he’s accepted that blame. I mean, he called it his Katrina, and he also now wants to be part of the solution.

But I think the thing that concerns me most is [McCarthy’s] testimony, which I find to be outrageous and Orwellian.

Woodruff: In what way?

Edwards: Well, for example, they said the EPA whistleblower’s memo that blew the lid off of this back in July was inconclusive when in fact it proved that the entire city was in danger.

The EPA again today claimed that they didn’t know whether they could enforce federal law. [Sarcastic chuckle] The EPA didn’t know whether they could enforce the federal law or not?

They also said they were strong-armed by the state. I mean, how can you be strong-armed by someone you’re supposed to be supervising?

And even more outrageous is the claim that they warned Flint residents in July that the water was not safe to drink when in fact, when Virginia Tech—our team—tried to warn people in July, August, and September that the water was unsafe, we had to fight the EPA. [The] EPA said nothing to back us up.

They are a major part of what went wrong in in Flint, and for them to sit there and act like they’ve done nothing went wrong is, again, outrageous and Orwellian.

Edwards, who helped uncover a lead water crisis in Washington years ago, said his team has long warned the EPA about a silent crisis: Millions of American outside Flint are unknowingly drinking poison from their kitchen sinks.

“When you start turning over rocks and looking at what’s happening in drinking water in this country,” he told Woodruff, “something slimy is going to crawl out every time.”

President Obama has done nothing about the national lead-water crisis, but he and his fellow Democrats will tell you Flint is a Snyder problem. Many Democrats want Snyder to resign.

The Republican-led Congress has done nothing about the broader problem, but its members will tell you Flint is the EPA’s fault. Many Republicans want McCarthy to resign.

I’m telling you that if you care a wit about the children of Flint, if you worry that your own water pipes may be leaching lead, don’t be fooled by these so-called leaders. They’re frauds. They’re exploiters. They’re monsters who eat the truth and vomit lies.

The real leaders are people outside the political system who get involved and find a way to make a difference—the Flint mother who discovered lead in her water; the young doctor who proved the city had an epidemic; and Edwards’s team at Virginia Tech that used freedom of information laws to pry the truth from the grubby grips of professional partisans.

There are lessons to be learned in Flint and new approaches to government that might prevent the next disaster. They won’t come from this White House or this Congress.

I summed up my ideas here. Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear from you—and hear your own ideas, too.  Let me know at or on Twitter @Ron_Fournier. I may share them here.