March 14, 2016 / 11:30 PM / a year ago

Two former Flint officials blame state and feds for water crisis

Volunteers distribute bottled water to help combat the effects of the crisis when the city's drinking water became contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan, March 5, 2016.Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The former mayor and former emergency manager of Flint both blamed the dangerously high lead levels in the city's water on state and federal officials, according to testimony released on Monday that is to be delivered at a hearing in Washington this week.

Former Mayor Dayne Walling and former emergency manager Darnell Earley, who was appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, are among witnesses who will testify at two days of hearings by the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The water crisis has drawn national attention and led to heavy criticism of Snyder, with some voters mounting a petition drive to have him recalled. Snyder, who has repeatedly apologized for the state's poor handling of the crisis, is scheduled to testify on Thursday.

The switch of Flint's water supply from Detroit to the Flint River in April 2014, made in a cost-cutting move, was made while Earley was the city's emergency manager.

The city switched back to the Detroit water system last October - after Earley had left the position as emergency manager - but the river's corrosive water leached lead from city pipes, causing a serious public health threat.

Earley, who will appear in front of the House committee on Tuesday, the first day of the hearings, in his written testimony blamed state and federal officials.

The top of the Flint Water Plant tower is seen in Flint, Michigan in this February 7, 2016 file photo.Rebecca Cook/Files

"Unthinkable errors all underscore that Flint’s crisis resulted from improper treatment of the water, an issue which fell squarely in the bailiwick of (the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) and EPA," Earley said in the testimony released by the committee.

"We relied on the experts to verify that the water would not pose any threat to the community - the experts failed all of us," he added, citing state environmental officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Demonstrators protest over the Flint, Michigan contaminated water crisis outside of the venue where the Democratic U.S. presidential candidates' debate was being held in Flint, Michigan, March 6, 2016.Rebecca Cook

"I now wish that I had been more probative in my approach in delving deeper into the explanations I was receiving about what was being done," he said.

The EPA's former regional director, Susan Hedman, who resigned after criticism of her handling of the crisis, will also be among those testifying on Tuesday.

Walling, the former mayor, said in his written testimony: "The state’s focus on balancing the city’s books and choosing low cost over human consequences created more expensive public problems." He was also critical of the EPA.

He added that questions raised by EPA officials about Flint's water "were not accurately addressed" by the state environmental officials.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who will testify on Thursday, said in a Washington Post editorial on Monday that the state was "dismissive, misleading and unresponsive" with federal officials. But she said the EPA also missed opportunities.

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