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State investigator named to Flint water crisis probe

The massive lead contamination of the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, has put public officials in the hot seat for the way concerns and revelations were handled. Now the state's attorney general has named a former prosecutor to investigate whether any laws were broken, but there are questions about how independent the investigation will be. WIlliam Brangham talks with Judy Woodruff.

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    Worried about lead in your water? Flint pediatricians have this advice

    NewsHour correspondent William Brangham discusses the probe, the questions surrounding it and why the EPA has now decided to take over the monitoring of Flint's water supply. Brangham, who recently went to Flint to cover the story, also explores what's next for safeguarding the water supply for the future and where things stand in the public call for accountability.

    Read the full transcript of this segment below:


    There's more political fallout and anger in Flint, Michigan, where public officials are being challenged on their response to that city's water crisis.

    Residents are anxious over the massive lead contamination in the water supply. And, today, the state's attorney general named a special counsel to investigate exactly what happened. Former prosecutor Todd Flood was appointed to the job because the attorney general is also defending the state against water-related lawsuits.

    But there's been some question about just how independent this investigation will be.

    Here's some of what Mr. Flood had to say today.

  • TODD FLOOD, Investigator, Flint Water Crisis:

    This is an investigation I can assure you we're going to open up every door. We're going to get asked the tough questions, those proverbial questions of, what did you know and when did you know it? We're going to get through and to the bottom of what happened in this situation.

    The people deserve that. And then we will report back, as it should be, to the attorney general.


    Our own William Brangham has been covering this story, and he joins me now.

    So, William, tell us exactly what this special investigator is charged with finding out.


    The basic mission is, this — Mr. Flood is supposed to look at exactly whether or not any laws were broken.

    And that could be anywhere along the process of how this lead in Flint got into the water and how people drank it for so long. That is really what he is charged with investigating.


    And to whom does he report, because, as we said, questions about just how independent he is. He is named by the state attorney general. So he's already part of the apparatus, people are saying.


    Right. Right.

    Well, he is supposed to report to the attorney general. And these exactly are the questions that you are bringing up. What has been revealed in the last day is that Flood himself donated upwards of $10,000 to the attorney general's different campaigns over the years.

    And so people are looking at that and thinking, if you are reporting to the attorney general, and you are investigating the governor, who Flood has also donated money to, how impartial can you really be? And so the head of the Democratic Party in Michigan has called it incomprehensible that Flood was put in charge.

    And they have asked that the U.S. Justice Department investigate instead.


    But there is no sign yet that the attorney general is going to change this appointment?


    No, no. He rejects that there is any real conflict of interests here and says, as he said today, the chips will fall where they may in this investigation.


    All right, well, what about the water supply itself? We have been reporting on this for days and weeks. What is the safety of this — of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, right now?


    It's safer than it used to be, but it is not 100 percent safe. And that's why we see residents still drinking out of bottled water or being told to use filters that take the lead out of the water.

    The EPA has recently come in as of last week and told the local officials who have been charged with monitoring the water that the EPA was concerned with how well they were actually doing their jobs. And so the EPA, the federal agency, has now stepped in and said, we're going to take over that job. We are going to look after the water, so that we can guarantee that what we tell the residents is accurate, which has really been one of the big complaints all along, that people haven't gotten straight answers on how safe their water is.


    And is there better — any better understanding, William, of how this happened, why this happened?


    Well, we know the mechanics of how it happened. They put the river water into the pipes. They were old lead popes. The corrosive river water leeched lead into the water, and people drank that water.

    The biggest problem really for most residents in Flint is the failure of all the safeguards along the way that were supposed to protect people from that. So, why wasn't a chemical added to the water that would have protected the corrosion from happening? And why weren't people monitoring the levels of the water appropriately, so that they knew there was a danger?

    When danger and red flags were raised, why didn't people do something about that? So that is where the trust has really crumbled in the city. And people are thinking, how do we really know? When you tell us now, OK, it might be safe, how can we trust that?


    Well, what is happening? While all these investigations are going on, what is happening right now to try to satisfy people's — in some cases, they have to be frantic because of what lead means for their children's health.



    There are all of these small safeguards. You have — we have seen these images of people being given, donated bottles of water. They have been given filters. They have been told not to drink the tap water. They have been told to limit their exposure to it in baths and showers.

    They have been told that there's going to be proper monitoring going forward. But the trust has been lost. And every single person we talked to in Flint last week when we were there said, we cannot trust what public officials are telling us. And so we are not going near that water for the time being.


    So, is the city just in a state of upheaval right now?


    If is.

    I mean, the mayor — as you know, Flint has been under emergency management for a long time, partly because they were so broke. That is really what led to this…



    On a budget.


    … crisis. Exactly.

    The mayor has asserted herself more forcefully and said, I'm now going to make sure we stop using the river water to drink out of. I am going to help and try to demand a better federal investigation into what went on.

    But people are still very uncertain.


    It's such a tough story.

    William Brangham, thank you.


    My pleasure.

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