Michigan Officials Knew About Legionnaires' Disease Long Before Outbreak Reached Its Peak
Ten people are dead in Flint, Michigan, because of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that took hold after the city switched water sources in 2014.
While we don't know for sure the outbreak started because of the water crisis there, we do know this: Officials in the administration of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder knew about the surge long before he said they did, according to internal emails obtained by the liberal group Progress Michigan.
Now, local Democrats have joined outraged observers across the United States calling for Snyder's resignation.
On Jan. 13, Snyder said he'd learned about the spike in Legionnaires' cases in Flint just a couple of days before, according to the Guardian. By that point, at least 87 people in Genesee County had contracted the disease, which is caused by inhaling vaporized bacterium that grow in warm water, and causes shortness of breath, high fevers, muscle aches, coughing and headaches.
But according to the emails, which were obtained through a records request, Snyder's office knew about the spike as early as March — 10 months before he said they did. There had been between six and 13 Legionnaires' cases in Genesee in the four years before the current outbreak, CNN reports.
Officials in March were "scrambling" to figure out whether these cases were linked to Flint's drinking water, which had been worrying residents for the previous year due to its metallic brown tint and tendency to smell bad, cause skin rashes and make people's hair fall out. In spite of these concerns, nobody in power told the general public about the Legionnaires' outbreak.
A Snyder spokesperson told the Guardian on Thursday that Snyder indeed had not been told about the spike until January, claiming the his large office staff meant important information "isn't always forthcoming." But Snyder's opponents aren't buying it, saying this is yet another example of Snyder saying one thing while his emails reveal something different.
"There is a limit to how many times you can play dumb when it comes to events and actions that take place on your watch," Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said in a statement. "Governor Snyder is attempting to employ this tactic again, claiming he wasn't told of the connection, made almost a year before he informed the public, between Flint's water and the legionella bacteria."
Prominent activist, filmmaker and Flint native Michael Moore has since called for Snyder's arrest and imprisonment, while at least 12 petitions have now been filed with Michigan's Secretary of State calling for him to resign.
Meanwhile, Flint is still reeling from a water crisis that started in spring 2014, when the city switched its water source from a purchase arrangement with Detroit to drawing directly from the Flint River. As it turns out, the Flint River water was so corrosive it wreaked havoc on the city's antiquated pipe system, causing lead to be released into the water supply.
The New York Times reports up to 8,000 children under 6 years old may have been exposed to the lead-infused liquid. Flint residents have since been advised to drink only bottled water, which is being distributed en masse by National Guardsmen deployed by Snyder.
Below are the emails that reveal Snyder's office was aware of the Legionnaire's outbreak in March: