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The First Criminal Charges Have Been Filed In Flint Lead Poisoning Scandal

The newest chapter in the sad story of Flint, Michigan

Criminal charges have been filed against three men suspected of enabling the proliferation of lead poisoned water in the city of Flint, Michigan, and the state’s Attorney General Bill Scheutte has vowed this is “only the beginning.”

The recipients of the first round of charges are Mike Glasgow, the current utilities administrator of Flint and former of supervisor of the city’s water treatment plant; along with Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. And The Detroit Free Press has published a convenient rundown of the charges levied against all three men:

“Prysby faces six criminal counts: two charges of misconduct in office; and one count each of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence, engaging in a treatment violation that violates the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act and engaging in a monitoring violation that violates the Michigan' Safe Drinking Water Act.

The five charges against Busch are misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence, engaging in a treatment violation that violates Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, and engaging in a monitoring violation that violates the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.

Glasgow was charged with two counts of tampering with evidence and willful neglect of office.”

If they’re found guilty on all counts, Prysby is staring down up to 20 years in prison and more than $35,000 in fines while Busch could fare slightly better with only as many as 15 years behind bars and fines in excess of $25,000. Glasgow stands to face the lightest potential punishment with up to five years in prison and an maximum of $6,000 in fines. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has not been charged with any crimes and has been very supportive of the investigation, but many are calling for his head, too.

And honestly, even those maximum punishments feel a little light, considering Flint is a town of people, and people have families and families have children. Lots and lots of children. The water is believed to have turned toxic all the way back in April of 2014, when the city started sourcing its water from the Flint River, which was treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant, instead of Lake Huron, which is under the jurisdiction of the Detroit water system. (And considering how blighted poor Flint is, it should come as no surprise that its eponymous river is basically terrible.) For some reason, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality decided not to require corrosion-control chemicals to be added to the treatment process. Considering how much lead we still have in our infrastructure in this country that feels like a common sense level mistake.

Without the control chemicals in place, the water running to Flint turned corrosive, which resulted in lead leaching from the pipes. A pediatric doctor named Mona Hanna-Attisha was the one to connect the dots between the tainted water and an uptick in rashes and hair loss experienced by her young patients. State officials denied the lead problem for months – despite kids developing rashes and hair loss – but eventually admitted they knew what was wrong and started once again sourcing the city’s water from the Detroit supply.

By that time, though, the damage was done and the water infrastructure had been terribly eroded. So even with properly treated water, Flint residents still weren’t out of the woods. The insult to all of this injury is that residents are being asked to use their taps again to help circulate water through the system that’s being treated with higher levels of phosphate to repair the damaged pipes. So: Hi. We know we poisoned you and your kids, but could you do us a solid and use your water again? We promise it’s better now.

This whole story is made more sad by the fact that Flint is probably the Rust Belt’s best worst example of how the heartland crumbled when auto manufacturing facilities started closing their doors in the 1980s and 1990s. It had to be put under a “financial state of emergency” in 2011. Nearly half the residents live below the poverty line. The population has fled. The people who have stayed might not even have a grocery store to go to. It’s dangerous. And now, its own state officials have played a part in poisoning its water supply.

No matter how many people are charged with crimes against the people of Flint, the residents will still be saddled with the aftermath of 18 months of water poisoning. But hopefully this will be the first act of many that can give the community hope of justice being carried out in their favor.

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