The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had the authority and information to take decisive action on the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water in June of 2015 -- seven months before it acted, a federal watchdog said Thursday.
The Office of Inspector General for the EPA said the agency should have issued an emergency order to protect Flint residents from the contaminated water. The EPA didn't issue such an order until Jan. 21 of this year.
“These situations should generate a greater sense of urgency,” said EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins. “Federal law provides the EPA with emergency authority to intervene when the safety of drinking water is compromised. Employees must be knowledgeable, trained and ready to act when such a public health threat looms.”
Thursday's finding, in an interim report, was part of an ongoing review of the EPA's response to the Flint water crisis.
Inspector General officials are also participating in an ongoing criminal investigation led by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit.
Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 after the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched its drinking water source from Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit system to Flint River water treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has acknowledged a mistake in failing to require the addition of needed corrosion control chemicals. As a result, lead leached from pipes, joints and fixtures, causing toxic lead levels in the blood of Flint children to spike.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has been criticized for the state's slow response, has called the catastrophe a failure at all three levels of government.