U.S. Senate approves aid for Flint, Michigan, water crisis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a broad $10 billion water projects development bill that will help Flint, Michigan, deal with a long-running problem of lead contamination in the city’s water supply.

The Republican-majority Senate voted 95-3 in favor of the bill, which contains $100 million in loans and grants to states with health emergencies related to lead or other contaminants in public drinking water systems.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause developmental and behavioral problems, especially in children.

The bipartisan vote came after months of difficult negotiations in the Senate but there still was no indication that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would approve such legislation and send it to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

“The people of Flint have waited for years” for help from Washington, Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan said in an interview. “Every month or more delay is simply unacceptable.”

Peters said he and other members of the Michigan delegation were in talks with the House on a way forward but he could not say for certain a deal would be reached.

Some conservatives have expressed reservations about the need for more federal aid.

In April 2014, Flint switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The corrosive river water caused lead to leach from city pipes into drinking water, creating both a health and political crisis.

Residents of the city, which has a population of 100,000, on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order bottled water or water filters to be provided. Six employees from Michigan’s health and environmental departments face criminal charges related to the tainted water.

The Senate measure sets $70 million in subsidies to help finance an estimated $1 billion in water infrastructure projects across the United States, including in Flint.

Another $20 million would be funneled through the Environmental Protection Agency for lead-reduction efforts.

The aid to Flint would be paid for by saving $300 million from phasing out a government program helping automakers develop higher-efficiency standards.

Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Bill Trott