The Failure of Cooperative Federalism in Flint, Michigan

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The Failure of Cooperative Federalism in Flint, Michigan

By now, most everyone has been following the public health crisis that has unfolded in the community of Flint, Mich. For over a year now, the citizens of Flint have been drinking water with significantly elevated lead levels, raising serious concerns about the impacts of lead exposure on children and others who have used the water for drinking and cooking. Lead levels were detected as high as 13,200 µg/L, orders of magnitude above the federal action level of 15 µg/L. Fallout from the crisis has prompted the resignations of the heads of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Region 5. While many questions remain, and recriminations, investigations, and litigation will continue in the foreseeable future, what is clear is that the event constitutes a colossal failure of government and governance. We may never fully appreciate the full extent of crisis and the lingering impacts on the people of Flint. This avoidable tragedy raises many questions, including legal ones that ought to govern the treatment and monitoring processes to ensure the safety of our nation’s drinking water supplies. How could Flint happen? Why was there such a long delay in responding? And how can we avoid a similar crisis elsewhere, given the aging of our nation’s water infrastructure?

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  • Publications: Journal – American Water Works Association
  • Issue Date: March 2016
  • Volume / Number: 108, Number 3