DEQ spokesman who urged Flint to 'relax' lands new job

LANSING - A former spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality who resigned over the Flint drinking water crisis has joined the Lansing lobbying corps.

Brad Wurfel, who said last summer that Flint residents worried about lead contamination of their water should "relax," registered as a lobbyist in July and is working for the Lansing firm of Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore, records show.

"I work with a wide range of clients to help them address challenges and find more effective ways to communicate," Wurfel said about his new job, in an updated posting on his LinkedIn page.

Wurfel did not return a phone message from the Free Press.

Bill Kandler, a partner in the firm, said in an e-mail that "our clients require a seasoned team to help them be successful in the business, policy-making and regulatory arenas," and "we are assembling a team that has the  talents, experience and expertise our clients need and from which they can benefit."

Kandler did not respond to an e-mailed question about whether Wurfel's record handling the Flint water crisis as communications director at the DEQ raised any concerns.

Wurfel resigned from the DEQ in December, the same day Gov. Rick Snyder accepted the resignation of Wurfel's boss, former DEQ Director Dan Wyant.

A task force appointed by Snyder to investigate the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water, in its March report, cited "callous and dismissive responses to citizens' expressed concerns," by state officials, among other issues.

In July 2015, responding to a leaked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency memo citing dangerously high lead levels in the home of one Flint woman, Wurfel told Michigan Radio: "Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax."

In September, when Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center pointed to data showing rising lead levels in the blood of Flint children, Wurfel suggested the pediatrician was stoking concerns without proper cause and called her comments "unfortunate." He later apologized.

Flint's water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 when 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 water system to Flint River water treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. DEQ officials have acknowledged a disastrous mistake when they failed to require the city to add corrosion-control chemicals as part of the treatment process.

The corrosive water caused lead to leach from pipes, joints and fixtures. Although Flint reconnected to Detroit water in October, after state officials acknowledged the lead-poisoning problem after months of denials, the risk remains because of damage to the water infrastructure system.

Officials are also investigating possible links between the water switch and deadly outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area.

Wurfel is named as a defendant in several civil lawsuits arising from the Flint water crisis, but is not among the eight current or former state employees who have been criminally charged in the case by Attorney General Bill Schuette. One City of Flint employee has also been charged.

Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore represents or has represented a wide range of clients, including the ACLU, Comcast, Google, Greektown Casino and the Michigan State Medical Society, records show.

One of the firm's partners, Deb Muchmore, is the spouse of Dennis Muchmore, who was Snyder's chief of staff during much of the Flint water crisis before taking a lobbyist job with the Honigman law firm in January.

Wurfel's spouse, Sara Wurfel, was Snyder's press secretary until she left at the end of November to join the Lansing public relations firm Truscott Rossman.

(2016 © Detroit Free Press)


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