Michigan to end free bottled water for Flint, saying water crisis over

(Reuters) - The state of Michigan will no longer supply free bottled water to Flint, the city once plagued with lead-tainted drinking water in a crisis that drew national attention, officials said on Friday.

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For nearly two years, tests have shown that Flint’s water is the same or better than similar cities across the state, a statement from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s office said. When the current supply of state-funded bottled water is depleted, the distribution centers will close and deliveries will end.

“The scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” the Republican governor said in the statement. “Since Flint’s water is now well within the standards set by the federal government, we will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward.”

Michigan State Representative Sheldon Neeley, a Democrat whose district includes most of Flint, a predominantly black city of about 100,000, denounced the decision to end free bottled water, calling it cruel.

“Governor Snyder has failed to address the psychological trauma that his administration put the people of Flint through. The fact is, the people of Flint don’t trust the Snyder administration or the science they pay for -– science that previously allowed our city to be poisoned,” Neeley said in a statement.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the parties that sued state and city officials to secure safe drinking water for residents, called the decision disappointing. “The people of Flint deserve better,” NRDC health director Erik Olson said.

Officials from the city of Flint did not respond to requests for comment.

Flint regained control of its finances on Wednesday after Michigan announced the end of nearly seven years of state oversight, a period marked by the water crisis.

Flint switched its public water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in a cost-cutting move in April 2014. The polluted river water caused lead to leach from pipes. Lead poisoning stunts children’s cognitive development.

The city switched back to Lake Huron water in October 2015. The water crisis prompted dozens of lawsuits and criminal charges against former government officials.

In June 2017, six current and former state and city officials were charged for their roles in the crisis, which was linked to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that caused at least 12 deaths.

Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Sandra Maler