US EPA Didn't Respond Quickly Enough to Flint Drinking Water Crisis

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Citing to a new CRS report, Amena Saiyid of Bloomberg BNA, reports that EPA Didn’t Enforce Flint Drinking Water Violations.

By Amena HDo Not Drink This Water Sign. Saiyid

Feb. 17 — The Environmental Protection Agency did not use its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to enforce violations against the public water utility in Flint, Mich., despite being aware of the elevated lead levels in the city’s tap water, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

 Released Feb. 17, the report said Section 1414 of the Safe Drinking Water Act authorizes the EPA to notify the state and the public water system when it learns of a drinking water violation, and to allow the water utility to come into compliance. But if after 30 days the violation continues, and the state hasn’t taken any action, then the EPA “must” take enforcement action against the public utility, the report, Lead in Flint, Michigan’s Drinking Water: Federal Regulatory Role, said.
States have first-line enforcement responsibilities to compel public water systems to comply with drinking water regulations, the report said.

The CRS report said the EPA didn’t use its emergency powers under Section 1431 of the Safe Drinking Water Act until Jan. 26 when water contamination in Flint had become a full blown public health crisis.

The emergency powers provision authorizes EPA to take actions to protect human health when a drinking water contaminant “may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of persons” when a state and local authorities haven’t acted.

EPA Took Too Long to Respond

The EPA issued its emergency order nine months after becoming aware that lead levels in the city’s tap water had risen to dangerous levels, a result of the decision by the state-appointed emergency manager to switch its water supply to nearby Flint River without ensuring that erosion controls were in place. The order came four months after a Hurley Medical Center study found elevated lead levels in blood samples taken from six-year-old children in Flint.

The House in a near-unanimous vote approved H.R. 4470, which would require public water utilities to notify customers, the state and the EPA if it exceeds the lead action level, and require the EPA to notify the public if the system or state has not done so within 24 hours after the agency receives that notification. The bill also would require the EPA to develop a strategic plan for improving information sharing and public communication (2016 WLPM 06, 2/11/16).

The CRS identified regulatory implementation, monitoring protocols, compliance, oversight issues and the lead regulation itself as contributing factors in the failure to effectively prevent, identify and respond to high lead levels in Flint’s drinking water.

Brent Fewell, attorney and founder of the Earth & Water Group, a legal and strategic advisory firm, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 17 that the EPA could have used its emergency powers earlier than it did (2016 WLPM 05, 2/4/16).

Fewell said the EPA’s response was delayed in part because it didn’t find out from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality until April 2015 that the city wasn’t using corrosion controls.
“Had EPA taken immediate emergency action at that point, it still would have taken several more months for the treatment to stop or slow the leaching,” said Fewell, who served as the EPA deputy assistant administrator for water under President George W. Bush.    Continue reading . . .