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Michigan AG Drops Criminal Charges in Flint Water Crisis, Renews Investigation

CC BY 2.0 / Luis / grifoOfficials with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knew about poisonous lead in the tap water in Flint, Michigan, as early as April, and did nothing about it.
Officials with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knew about poisonous lead in the tap water in Flint, Michigan, as early as April, and did nothing about it. - Sputnik International
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has dropped all charges against eight officials over the water crisis in Flint, and announced the investigation will be started over again.

Among those whose charges were dropped is Nick Lyon, the former head of Michigan's health department, who was accused of failing to provide the public with timely information about the outbreak of Legionnaire's disease in 2014 and 2015, when Flint's water was not being properly treated. Legionnaire's is a type of pneumonia infection spread through water mist.

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Others previously charged include Dr. Eden Wells, Michigan's former chief medical executive; Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Early, two state-appointed emergency managers; Patrick Cook, a Department of Environmental Quality official; and two Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials, Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott.

The outbreak occurred the same time the city was already reeling from a toxic lead contamination crisis. Twelve deaths have been linked to the Legionnaire's outbreak.

Nessel announced Thursday afternoon that all charges brought by the former Office of Special Counsel would be dismissed without prejudice, meaning those charged could still be charged again in the future.

​"I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable," the attorney general said.

Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym K. Worthy said in a joint statement Thursday that they believed the previous administration's investigation had begun on improper foundations. In particular, they faulted the OSC for giving private law firms representing key agencies and offices under investigation the power to decide what information would be turned over to law enforcement.

​​"Upon assuming responsibility of this case, our team of career prosecutors and investigators had immediate and grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by the OSC, particularly regarding the pursuit of evidence," the joint statement said. "After a complete evaluation, our concerns were validated."

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Now, they say, the case will be renewed on a stronger footing with better evidence and an expanded scope.

"We are now in the best possible position to find the answers the citizens of Flint deserve and hold all responsible parties accountable," they said.

In 2014, it was revealed that as a result of a failure to apply corrosion inhibitors to the city's water pipes when its primary water source was changed, those pipes had corroded, exposing tens of thousands of residents to dangerously toxic levels of lead. It's estimated that at least 6,000, and as many as 12,000, children were exposed to toxic levels of the metal in their drinking water — something that can cause permanent developmental damage.

As a result, all residents were told only to use bottled water. In 2017, the water was declared safe enough to drink again, but Flint is still working on checking its 28,000 pipes to see if they need to be replaced.

That same water change is also believed to be responsible for the outbreak of Legionnaire's disease now being investigated by the state attorney's office.

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