The Environmental Protection Agency had the power and enough information to issue an emergency order to protect the people of Flint, Mich. from lead-contaminated water as early as 7 months before they did, the EPA's inspector general said Thursday.
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“Federal law provides the EPA with emergency authority to intervene when the safety of drinking water is compromised," said EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins. "Employees must be knowledgeable, trained and ready to act when such a public health threat looms.”
Flint's drinking water was contaminated after the city switched its supply in April 2014, exposing many of the city's nearly 100,000 residents to elevated lead levels in the water.
State regulators failed to ensure water was being properly treated.
Hundreds of children have been found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, doctors found.
Lead is a known neurotoxin and is particularly harmful to young children whose neurological systems are still developing. Early lead exposure can have a lifetime of consequences, including lowered IQ, behavioral issues and developmental delays among others, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Federal, state and local officials have pointed fingers for over two years since the water crisis began.
So far, three state officials are facing charges.
The Safe Drinking Water Act, Section 1431 provides emergency authority to the EPA. According to the IG, the EPA has its own internal guidance since 1991 about what it can do in the event of an emergency situation like Flint.
“These situations should generate a greater sense of urgency,” said the inspector general.
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
ABC News' Stephanie Ebbs and Whitney Lloyd contributed to this report.