State, federal officials talked lead issues in February

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FLINT (WJRT) - (10/23/15) - The revelation that lead was leaching into Flint's water system came far before state and federal leaders admitted publicly there was a problem. That's what ABC12 is learning from newly obtained emails.

Researchers from Virginia Tech obtained emails from the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It shows the agencies discussing elevated lead levels as far back as February.

That's six months before anyone admitted it to the people drinking the water, and Flint wasn't warned to take action until mid-August.

The documents have Marc Edwards, from Virginia Tech, fired up.

"What's remarkable is the fact that those MDEQ and EPA knew that laws were being broken seven months ago and that lead problems could extend throughout the city," Edwards said.

In late February, an email from Miguel Del Toral, with the EPA, indicated lead leaching into the water. He questioned testing practices too, writing, "...the particulate lead is being flushed away before collecting compliance samples which provides false assurance to residents about the true lead levels in the water."

That same month, another EPA worker, Jennifer Crooks, wrote, "'s hard to pinpoint what's causing the problem where." She also asked elevated tests were "isolated" or was a more "wide spread" problem.

In emails, Del Toral also asked what corrosion controls Flint was using - as it was required. In April, a MDEQ employee said the city wasn't practicing corrosion control treatment.

Edwards said all the back and forth put residents' health in jeopardy.

"They just sat around talking about it, even after one of their employees leaked a memo that is proven to be perfectly accurate and honest in terms of speaking to the dangers of what Flint's children were being exposed to."

Inquires from a lawyer from the ACLU about elevated lead levels and questionable testing practices showed up in summer emails. In July, a MDEQ employee wrote, "Apparently it's going to be a thing now."

Edwards said had it not been for the grassroots efforts, the status quo likely would have continued.

"Had this unlikely coalition not come together, I guarantee you that residents of Flint would be exposed to this high lead in water problem for up to a year more," he said.

Flint wasn't ordered to get a corrosion plan in motion until mid-August. The MDEQ this month admitted mistakes were made, which led to a corrosion plan not being in place when the switch to river water was made in April of 2014.

Included in documents Virginia Tech obtained is correspondence between the city of Flint and the EPA - but not until the end of June. That's when city officials had questions about comments made by the EPA to the ACLU.

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