‘They weren’t ready’ for 2014 Flint water switch, foreman’s sister says

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FLINT (WJRT) (9/13/2019) - "He said it's not safe, we're not ready and people are going to die," Tonja Petrella said in a new documentary on Flint's water emergency, just released this week on PBS Frontline.

Petrella is talking about her brother, Matthew McFarland.

He worked at the Flint Water Treatment Plant for 18 years. His sister said it was his passion for what he did and the people of Flint that encouraged him to speak up. She just wishes more people could've heard him.

"There's a fine line. And I think that people need to realize that whistle blowers need better protection," Petrella said. "Because it was about, you know, he needs his job, he needs to support his family. But, what do you do?"

Petrella spoke to her brother every day.

"We were really close. He was such a good guy. I don't think you could ever find anybody to say he wasn't. He was a great Dad. I mean his kids were his life," she said through tears.

McFarland was a foreman at the plant during the time of the drinking water switch to the Flint River in April 2014. He didn't trust the water was safe for his community to drink.

"He just kept telling me that they weren't ready, they didn't have the funding. It would take to long to tr - they didn't have the staff. It would take too long to train them. There was no way that the plant could be ready," she said. "I mean, the day before the switch he was panicked."

But he couldn't stop it.

Petrella said McFarland told his supervisor Michael Glasgow who also expressed his concerns to the top. But again, no one listened.

So, Petrella said her brother asked her to tell everyone in Flint she knew not to drink the water.

"I mean I'm calling people saying please don't think I'm crazy, but please listen," she said. "And I know people listened, because feedback later was thank God I was able to get my parents a filter, I was - so we may not have been able to help a lot of people, but some people. It's just such a tragedy."

A tragedy that would haunt her brother.

Petrella wouldn't go into detail of how he died in 2016, besides telling ABC12 the autopsy states there was a mixture of drugs in his system.

Did the water crisis cause his death?

"Oh, I have no doubt. He would tell me Tonja you don't know what it's like to have people picketing and calling you baby killers. He was so stressed," Petrella said. "These employees of this water plant did everything they could to make sure the residents of this City were safe. I'm not sure what more they could've done."

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