National Guard, Feds Called to Help Get Water to Flint, Michigan, Residents

Improperly treated water from a new supply leached lead from city pipes.

ByABC News
January 13, 2016, 12:51 PM

— -- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder today requested federal support and activated the state National Guard to help with the ongoing water crisis in Flint, instructing troops to distribute supplies at the city’s five water resource sites.

“As we work to ensure that all Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water, we are providing them with the direct assistance they need in order to stretch our resources further,” Snyder said in a statement. “The Michigan National Guard is trained and ready to assist the citizens of Flint.”

The trouble began in 2014 when the city disconnected from Detroit’s water supply and began drawing its water from the Flint River. It was intended as a stop-gap measure until the completion of a pipeline to Port Huron Lake as the source for Flint’s water.

But the river water wasn’t treated properly, a state spokeswoman told ABC News in an earlier interview, so it drew lead from the pipes into the water supply.

Snyder declared a state of emergency related to the crisis last week, and today, in addition to calling out the National Guard, he asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate an interagency recovery plan with other federal agencies.

For FEMA's part, an agency spokeswoman told ABC News in an email statement today, “FEMA Regional Administrator Andrew Velasquez has appointed a Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator to identify and coordinate relevant federal agencies that may be able to assist with programs and funding."

Guard members are expected to arrive as soon as today to help facilitate getting clean water to residents. Water resource teams made up of state personnel and Michigan State Police started going door to door Tuesday to help residents get access to water filters and bottled water.

Snyder and other state and local officials have been criticized by residents and other groups for not responding more quickly.

Though the city switched back to the Detroit water supply in October 2015, it takes time for anti-corrosive chemicals in the water to work, which is why there’s still lead in the water, the state spokeswoman told ABC News last month.

Flint, with a population of about 100,000, realized savings of about $4 million annually by using the Flint River, according to The Associated Press.

Elevated lead levels in water can be especially dangerous for developing children. Lead is a known neurotoxin that can result in a result in a lifetime of side effects. Exposure can mean decreased IQ and behavioral issues, among other things, according to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center in Flint.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services started doing testing for lead levels on a biweekly basis in December.