(Reuters) - Federal officials are investigating the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan, after the financially beleaguered city switched sources to save money, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney in Detroit said on Tuesday.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder apologized in late December for the state’s mishandling of lead contamination of Flint’s water supply and accepted the resignation of the state official whose department is responsible for overseeing water quality.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the concerns of Flint residents and investigate the contamination of Flint’s water supply, said Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney.
Balaya would not say whether the office was looking at possible criminal or civil violations and said the U.S. Attorney normally would not even confirm the existence of an investigation.
“In light of the situation and the concerns of Flint residents we felt it necessary to put out there that we are looking into it,” Balaya said.
Snyder later on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Genessee County, which includes Flint, authorizing additional state resources to address the health and safety issues. The city declared a local emergency in mid December.
Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said the state would cooperate with any requests from the U.S. Attorney’s Office “as it looks into Flint’s water challenges.”
The governor has appointed an independent panel to review local, state and federal actions related to the drinking water situation and is working with city and county leaders, he said.
The financially strapped city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its source of tap water to the nearby Flint River in April 2014 from Detroit’s water system to save money.
Flint, about 60 miles (100 km) northwest of Detroit, returned to Detroit water in October after tests found some children had elevated levels of lead in their blood and lead was found in higher-than-acceptable levels in the water.
Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and at high levels can lead to seizures and death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flint residents also have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city and state of endangering their health by switching the water source.
Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Steve Orlofsky