Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday defended how his office responded to an email flagging a potential link between a surge in Legionnaires' disease and Flint's water, saying an aide asked for further investigation but a state agency did not bring forward the issue again.
The governor, who has come under criticism for not publicly disclosing the spike in Legionnaires' cases until 10 months later, told The Associated Press that his director of urban initiatives, Harvey Hollins, asked the Department of Environmental Quality to look into it after getting the March email.
The DEQ "didn't think there was a lot of base for it if you look at the email. Harvey, not being a technical expert, pushed back to say, 'You need to look into this and if you find an issue, bring it to the governor.' I think he was trying to respond appropriately, and the DEQ didn't bring it forward," Snyder said after visiting Our Lady Guadalupe Catholic Church, where volunteers distributed water and filters to the church's predominantly Latino parishioners.
There were at least 87 cases across Genesee County during a 17-month period, including nine deaths, but the public was never told about the increase when it was happening. Snyder publicly announced the outbreak last month, saying he had learned about it just a couple of days earlier.
The back and forth behind the scenes occurred while residents were complaining about poor water quality, even before lead contamination became an extraordinary health emergency roughly six months later.
The director and communications director at the DEQ resigned and water experts were suspended. Snyder said one reason he made the staff changes was because "I wasn't getting the information that I should have."