TIME Immigration

This Baptist Charity Is Being Paid Hundreds of Millions to Shelter Child Migrants

Contractors have taken on the huge task of sheltering thousands of unaccompanied child migrants

In the late afternoon of July 9, Air Force One touched down at Love Field in Dallas. President Barack Obama ducked into a private room at the airport for a discussion about the crisis of undocumented children crossing the southwest border. Assembled around a wooden table were top Texas officials, including Governor Rick Perry and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, as well as the leaders of several faith-based charities. One of them was a man so anonymous, the White House pool report misspelled his name.

Kevin Dinnin is the CEO of a faith-based, nonprofit organization called BCFS, formerly known as Baptist Child and Family Services. This obscure charity has emerged as one of the biggest players in the federal government’s response to the influx of more than 57,000 unaccompanied children who have trudged across the southern border so far this year. It runs two of the largest facilities for temporarily housing immigrant children, as well as six permanent shelters in California and Texas. Since December, BCFS has received more than $280 million in federal grants to operate these shelters, according to government records. On July 7, two days before Dinnin met Obama in Dallas, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded BCFS $190,707,505 in a single grant.

BCFS is just one part of a sprawling system of shelters for unaccompanied children across the country. As the numbers of children entering the country balloon, so do the dollars required to care for them. To shield vulnerable kids from angry opponents of immigration and the media spotlight, the government declines to disclose the locations and activities of many of the facilities operated by BCFS and similar organizations. That protectiveness comes at a political cost. Governors in states across the U.S. have assailed the federal government for sending kids to their states without notifying local officials, and congressional critics say that massive amounts of taxpayer money are being spent without proper oversight.

Health and Human Services Administrations—The New York Times/ReduxA dormitory at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio where unaccompanied migrant girls are being housed.

Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on July 17, requesting information about BCFS contracts to ensure that taxpayer money wasn’t being misused. “Despite being almost completely dependent on the public, BCFS has faced heavy criticism for attempting to avoid public scrutiny,” the Iowa Republican wrote. “This aversion to basic transparency is extremely disturbing.”

BCFS began in 1944 as a home for orphaned children. In recent years, a sleepy San Antonio–based charity grew into a global nonprofit with regional offices around the U.S., as well as in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. On contract for the federal government, it has provided temporary shelter and emergency services in the wake of natural disasters ranging from Texas hurricanes to Haitian earthquakes. When the state needed to relocate the members of a Texas polygamous sect in 2008, it turned to BCFS, which provided emergency housing. The current crisis is the largest and longest response BCFS has ever faced. It has deployed some 1,400 personnel to manage the temporary shelters this year.

For BCFS executives, the work can be lucrative. According to federal tax records, Dinnin received nearly $450,000 in compensation in 2012. At least four other top officials earned more than $200,000. The median salary for the CEOs of nonprofit organizations like BCFS was about $285,000 in 2011, according to a 2013 survey by Charity Navigator.

The salaries, BCFS spokeswoman Krista Piferrer says, are determined by factors in the group’s contract with HHS. When disaster situations strike, a crisis pay scale replaces a regular one to account for extended 12-hour shifts in two-to-three-week stints. In 2012, an influx of children at the border required an emergency response, according to Piferrer. “It is similar to making an appointment to see a primary-care physician vs. going to the emergency room,” she says. “The emergency room is more expensive.”

The federal grant money for sheltering unaccompanied children, provided by HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, has so far totaled $671 million during the 2014 fiscal year. BCFS has received 40% of those funds, making it the largest recipient of money disbursed to contractors to temporarily house unaccompanied children until they can be reunited with family members or placed in foster care. Dozens of other organizations are involved in the effort, including Southwest Key Programs, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

BCFS is responsible for running two of the three temporary facilities recently set up to house large numbers of undocumented children apprehended by federal agents. One is at the Department of Defense’s Joint Base Lackland, in BCFS’s home city of San Antonio. Lackland is currently housing more than 700 children and has processed more than 3,600 overall since opening in May, says Kenneth Wolfe, an HHS spokesman. Another is Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, which is currently holding about 400 children and has discharged nearly 1,500 to date. Children stay at these facilities for an average of less than 35 days while the government works to find a family member with whom to place them. Because they are temporary shelters, some journalists, faith leaders, members of Congress and foreign dignitaries have been allowed into the facilities at Lackland and Fort Sill. Both facilities are expected to close by the end of August.

These facilities make up just a fraction of the extensive network in place to house child migrants. The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Alien Children program (UAC) has been given custody of more than 53,000 children over the past several months. The majority have been cycled through this network of about 100 smaller, permanent facilities, scattered across 14 U.S. states.

Unlike the temporary shelters, the permanent facilities are largely inaccessible to media and the taxpayers that fund them. Their locations are not officially disclosed, and they are “generally unnamed or unmarked,” according to Wolfe. Contractors are prohibited from speaking with the media without permission, BCFS says. As a result, it’s hard to gauge the conditions under which thousands of children are being held, or to assess whether taxpayer money is being well spent.

Wolfe, the HHS spokesman, says the secrecy stems from federal policy designed to protect the children’s privacy and ensure their safety. “We don’t identify the permanent facilities for the security of the children and the staff and the program,” he says. “Like any grant, we have federal staff assigned to oversight.”

A spokesperson for Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit that has been awarded more than $122 million in federal grants since December to shelter unaccompanied children, making it the second largest recipient after BCFS, said the organization was required to refer press inquiries to HHS. On a recent July afternoon, after multiple emails went unanswered, a TIME reporter drove to a Southwest Key facility in Phoenix. It was a colorful building ringed by tall metal bars and “No Trespassing” signs, situated off a freeway in a part of town where most signs are in Spanish. There was no guard out front to greet visitors, and entry required punching in a code at the locked gate.

The level of secrecy surrounding the facilities is unusual, says Neil Gordon, an investigator for the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight. But observers say it may be warranted. From Arizona to Michigan, clusters of citizens have held armed protests to oppose the relocation of undocumented children to facilities in their communities. “This situation is pretty unique in that they don’t want the mobs to come out and cause problems,” Gordon says. “That might be the reason they’re being so tight-lipped.”

Eric Gay—APA temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors who have entered the country illegally is seen at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio on June 23, 2014.

A string of scams have also highlighted the importance of shielding the residents’ privacy. Grifters have been preying on the relatives of unaccompanied children, promising to help reunite them with their family members for fees ranging from $300 to $6,000, according to the Associated Press. The FBI is investigating the scams, which have targeted the families of children staying at BCFS facilities like Lackland, the AP reports.

Critics in Congress say the federal government is skirting transparency obligations. On July 1, Oklahoma Representative Jim Bridenstine, a Republican, was denied access to the BCFS facility at Fort Sill. “There is no excuse for denying a federal representative from Oklahoma access to a federal facility in Oklahoma where unaccompanied children are being held,” he said. “What are they trying to hide?” Soon after, the conservative media erupted over reports that BCFS planned to purchase a Texas hotel and turn it into a 600-bed facility for housing unaccompanied minors. (BCFS scuttled the idea, citing a backlash fed by inaccurate reporting.)

The UAC grant applications provide a glimpse of the extensive requirements to which organizations like BCFS must adhere. In addition to meeting all state and federal statutes, shelters must provide two hours per weekday of outdoor activity, offer classroom instruction on subjects like reading and science, supply counseling and personalized medical care, and grant phone calls to family members and access to visitors. The documents dictate that providers “utilize a positive, strength-based behavior-management approach, and shall never subject [residents] to corporal punishment, humiliation, mental abuse or punitive interference with the daily functions of living, such as eating or sleeping.”

Immigrant advocates say unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In January, the National Immigrant Justice Center issued a policy brief based on interviews with hundreds of unaccompanied children in the Chicago area. The minors reported grim conditions in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, before transfer to shelters run by contractors. According to the policy paper, 56% said they had been placed in three-point shackles, which restrain individuals at the wrists, waist and ankles. More than 70% reported being placed in unheated cells during the winter. Some said they were barely fed.

The lack of public or congressional oversight of the facilities sheltering unaccompanied children should not be construed as concealing anything untoward, say groups that have visited them and worked with BCFS. The care at BCFS sites is extensive, Piferrer says, with the chief of the respiratory-disease branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention embedded at the site to track every illness the children faced, from broken ankles to fevers to GI-tract infections. “You don’t find another organization like this,” Gary Ledbetter of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention says of BCFS. “It’s basically a turnkey operation.”

“There’s not one bit of care that those kids were receiving that wasn’t first class,” says Chris Liebrum of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a Baptist network with which BCFS is affiliated. “The federal government has come to Kevin. When the government says, ‘We need thousands of kids taken care of, can you do it?’ He’s done it.”

TIME abortion

Alabama Judge Rules Abortion Clinic Law Unconstitutional

Just a few days after a court in Mississippi struck down a similar law

An Alabama judge ruled Monday that a law requiring doctors who perform abortions in the state’s five clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is unconstitutional, as it imposes an “impermissible undue burden” that amounts to total prohibition of abortions.

“The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics,” U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson wrote in his decision. “Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”

Supporters of the law, called the “Women’s Health and Safety Act” in Alabama, say abortion doctors need to have admitting privileges at local hospitals in case a patient has medical complications after an abortion. “By striking down the Alabama law that required abortionists to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson is propping up incompetent, dangerous abortionists at the expense of the health and safety of the women in Alabama,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement. “It is a basic necessity to ensure the safety of women who are seeking abortions and to make sure their doctors are following standard medical procedures. To do anything otherwise would be to the detriment of women in the state.”

But the judge agreed with the plaintiffs, who were represented by lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, that these laws have no basis in medicine—they’re opposed by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—and make obtaining an abortion unnecessarily difficult. “This ruling will ensure that women in Alabama have access to safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “And Planned Parenthood will continue to fight for our patients, because a woman’s ability to make personal medical decisions should not depend on where she lives.”

The 5th Circuit of Appeals struck down a similar law in Mississippi last week. “Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion,” Judge E. Grady Jolly wrote in his ruling, adding that the law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges “effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi’s borders.” That court could only declare the law unconstitutional as it applies to Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi, and could not strike down the entire law, because it had been upheld by a 5th Circuit court in Texas.

 

TIME Environment

Toledo Lifts Drinking Water Ban

Mayor D. Michael Collins says it's now safe to drink the water

Toledo, Ohio Mayor D. Michael Collins lifted a temporary ban on drinking water Monday, saying the city’s water supply is now safe to drink.

The ban, which began on Saturday, left thousands of residents of Toledo and surrounding areas without drinking water. Water tests showed a toxin, likely from an algae bloom, was contaminating a regional water supply from Lake Erie. Earlier on Monday, the Mayor had said the ban would remain in place. But he later raised a glass of the newly safe water in a toast to his city to prove that it was suitable to drink.

“Here’s to you, Toledo,” he said. “You did a great job.”

Bottled water was trucked in to the area while the ban was in effect, and the Ohio National Guard was purifying water for the residents, the Associated Press reports.

Officials had warned that drinking the contaminated water could cause symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. Locals were told not to ingest it, use it to brush their teeth, or boil it. Ohio Gov. John Kasich had declared a state of emergency in response to the problem.

 

TIME Crime

The Wire Actor Anwan Glover Stabbed in D.C. Nightclub

Anwan Glover attends the "LUV" premiere during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival held at Eccles Center Theatre on Jan. 23, 2012 in Park City, Utah.
Jemal Countess—Getty Images Anwan Glover attends the "LUV" premiere during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival held at Eccles Center Theatre on Jan. 23, 2012 in Park City, Utah.

"My flesh may be stabbed but my spirit is unbreakable”

Actor Anwan Glover, who played “Slim Charles” in the hit HBO series The Wire, was stabbed in a Washington, D.C. nightclub early Sunday morning after a fight broke out.

The Washington Post reports Glover was treated for a laceration at the George Washington University Hospital after being stabbed in Cafe Asia, located in downtown Washington. Glover, who also appeared in the Oscar-winning film “12 Years A Slave,” is a 41-year-old Washington native. He’s the lead rapper in a local band called Backyard Band.

Glover posted a note Sunday on Instagram detailing his version of the incident, which he said occurred while he was supporting another local band.

“I am not a stranger to adversity and when shown hate, I’m going to spread love,” Glover wrote. “I am recovering and will be back soon. My flesh may be stabbed but my spirit is unbreakable.”

TIME Aviation

Airlines Get Guidelines on Handling Ebola

Medical staff take a blood sample from a suspected Ebola patient at the government hospital in Kenema
Tommy Trenchard—Reuters Medical staff take a blood sample from a suspected Ebola patient at the government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on July 10, 2014

The CDC says anyone who may have been exposed to the virus should not board a commercial flight until they have undergone 21 days of monitoring

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines for airline personnel on how to handle travelers who may have Ebola virus. The recommendations follow international efforts to contain an outbreak of the disease that has killed more than 800 people in West Africa.

If a passenger is suspected to have Ebola during a flight, the CDC says they should be separated from other travelers and that cabin crew must wear disposable gloves if there is a possibility of contact with that person’s bodily fluids.

Airline captains are required by law to report to the CDC any individuals suspected of carrying the Ebola virus before landing in the U.S.

The center also urged travelers who may have been exposed to Ebola to seek clearance from a doctor before traveling abroad.

“People who have been exposed to Ebola virus disease should not travel on commercial airplanes until there is a period of monitoring for symptoms of illness lasting 21 days after exposure. Sick travelers should delay travel until cleared to travel by a doctor or public health authority,” said the CDC in its statement.

Cabin-cleaning staff have also been advised to take extra precautions.

TIME Crime

Man Who Filmed NYPD ‘Chokehold’ Video Arrested on Gun Charges

Ramsey Orta was allegedly carrying a stolen, unloaded semiautomatic weapon

The man who filmed a video of a New York City police officer apparently using a fatal chokehold on a suspect was arrested on gun charges Saturday night, an NYPD spokesman announced.

Ramsey Orta, 22, was arrested in Staten Island on a charge of criminal possession of a firearm, an NBC affiliate reports.

In the video that Orta filmed, Eric Garner, who was arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” as officers wrestle him to the ground. A medical examiner ruled Friday that Garner’s death was a homicide and that the officer’s chokehold, a move prohibited by the NYPD, was a significant factor in it.

“I felt like they treated him wrong even after the fact that they had him contained,” Orta told TIME about Garner’s arrest.

Orta was carrying an unloaded semiautomatic weapon that was reported stolen in Michigan in 2007, police said. Orta is also in the hospital undergoing treatment for a medical condition.

[NBC]

TIME animals

Mysterious Cat-Like Creature on the Loose in Southern California

Experts "still cannot definitively identify the type of animal"

A large cat that appears to resemble a lion is roaming the streets of Norwalk, Calif., this weekend.

The city warned Thursday that a resident’s security camera captured what looked like a mountain lion walking around in the early hours of the morning last Tuesday. But on Friday, two experts from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that the beast was definitely not a mountain lion, though they “still cannot definitively identify the type of animal.”

Craig Packer, a professor at the University of Minnesota Lion Research Center watched the security footage and told the Los Angeles Times that “it certainly does look like an African lion. It’s not a cougar.” The founder and executive director of the Project Survival Cat Haven, Dale Anderson, also told the paper it looked like an African lion, though expert opinions vary: a founder of another wildlife sanctuary thought it could be a leopard, while a Department of Fish and Wildlife expert believed it could have just been a dog.

Anderson said that, if the animal is indeed a lion, it likely had been kept as a rare pet.

“If a lion is out there like that,” he said, “it shouldn’t be happening.”

TIME Infectious Disease

American Doctor With Ebola ‘Improving,’ Says CDC Chief

Handout photo of Dr. Kent Brantly speaking with colleagues at the case management center on the campus of ELWA Hospital in Monrovia
Samaritan's Purse/Reuters In an undated handout photograph courtesy of Samaritan's Purse, Dr. Kent Brantly, right, with colleagues at the case management center on the campus of ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Brantly, who contracted Ebola, is receiving treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta

Dr. Kent Brantly arrived in the U.S. on Saturday after catching the disease in Liberia

An American doctor infected with the Ebola virus “seems to be improving,” the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday.

“We’re hoping he’ll continue to improve,” Dr. Tom Frieden said during an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation. “But Ebola is such a scary disease because it’s so deadly. I can’t predict the future for individual patients.”

Dr. Kent Brantly arrived at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment on Saturday after catching the deadly infection in Liberia, where he was working with a charity and overseeing Ebola patients. Brantly is the first person with Ebola to enter the U.S.

Nancy Writebol, another American battling the Ebola virus, is expected to return to the U.S. from Liberia, where she was doing medical missionary work, in the next few days as well.

“I hope that our understandable fear of the unfamiliar does not trump our compassion when ill Americans return to the U.S. for care,” Frieden said, noting that he has received angry calls and emails from other Americans concerned about Brantly’s return to the U.S. for treatment.

Though the Emory hospital is one of four in the country that are equipped to handle the most dangerous infectious diseases, the Ebola virus can usually be contained with standard infection-control measures, as it spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids.

More than 700 people have died from the recent Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa.

TIME remembrance

Goodbye Jim Frederick: Writer, Editor, Mentor, Friend

JF_014_new.JPG
Peter Hapak for TIME Jim Frederick

TIME Senior Editor Bryan Walsh reflects on the life of former TIME Editor Jim Frederick, who passed away Thursday at the age of 42. Read some of Jim's most memorable work below.

When a writer dies young—and Jim Frederick, who died Thursday in Oakland at 42, was very young—we mourn the work that will never be. As a writer and editor at Money and TIME magazine, Jim produced penetrating stories about whatever caught his attention. While TIME’s Tokyo bureau chief in 2005, he co-wrote the autobiography of Charles Jenkins, an American soldier who wandered across the de-militarized zone during the Korean War, and who was held captive for half a century. It was the story every reporter in Japan wanted to get—filling in for him in Tokyo while he wrote the book, I used to field calls from Japanese TV networks desperate to interview him—and Jim had it. He always did.

As a writer he’ll be remembered for his masterpiece, the Iraq war book Black Hearts. The Guardian called it the best book to come out of the conflict, no small feat as bookshelves groan from volumes of memoir, reportage and fiction gleaned from those years and that place. Black Hearts stands apart, and as time passes its stature will only grow—particularly, I think, among those who fought in Iraq. My younger brother, an Army officer and Ranger who served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, called Black Hearts the truest thing to come out of that war. Despite the fact that the book detailed some of the blackest deeds done by American soldiers in Iraq, veterans thought highly of Black Hearts, a fact that I know Jim was rightly proud of.

Black Hearts Excerpt: Crimes in Iraq’s “Triangle of Death”

Some of the mental states that the men described are well documented by psychologists studying the effect of combat on soldiers. The men talked about desensitization, how numbed they were to the violence. They passed around short, graphic, computer-video compilations of collected combat kills and corpses found in Iraq. Iraqis were not seen as humans. Many soldiers actively cultivated the dehumanization of locals as a secret to survival. “You can’t think of these people as people,” opined Sergeant Tony Yribe, another member of 1st Platoon. “If I see this old lady and say, ‘Ah, she reminds me of grandmother,’ but then she pulls out a f___ing bomb, I’m not going to react right.” Children were considered insurgents or future insurgents, and women were little more than insurgent factories.

But for those who knew Jim, the loss of the work is secondary. Even more than his prodigious abilities as a reporter, a writer and an editor, Jim had an enormous talent for friendship, which is why so many people, in so many places, are bereft today. It was hard enough—impossible, really—to replace Jim as a journalist when I succeeded him as TIME’s Tokyo bureau chief in 2006, when he moved to London to work as an editor for the magazine. But as a person—forget it. Jim was a born connector, the life of the party in all the best ways. If any friend or colleague passed through the city Jim was living in—London, Tokyo, New York—it was an occasion to be celebrated. He made sure it was big, and he made sure it was fun.

Black Hearts Excerpt: The Downward Spiral of Private Steven Green

Twenty-one-year-old Steven Green was one of the weirdest men in the company. He was an okay soldier when he wanted to be, but the oddest thing about him was that he never stopped talking. And the stuff that came out of his mouth was some of the most outrageous, racist invective many of the men had ever heard. Green could discourse on any number of topics, but they usually involved hate in some way, including how Hitler should be admired, how “white culture” was under threat in multi-ethnic America, and how much he wanted to kill every last Iraqi on the planet. He would go on and on and on like this until somebody literally would have to order him to shut up.

For younger colleagues, like myself, Jim was a big brother. Not long after he moved to Hong Kong to work as a writer for TIME in 2002, Jim took me out to lunch, something that at the time utterly baffled me. I was an awkwardly introverted 24-year-old reporter who’d been at the magazine for less than a year; I knew next to nothing about anything. But Jim asked me about what I thought, why I’d gotten into journalism, what I wanted to do with my career—things, looking back, that no one in my life had ever really asked me. In Tokyo, in London, and in New York, where Jim would return after writing Black Hearts, he would do the same for countless others journalists, serving as a mentor and as a role model. When Jim took over as the international editor of TIME in 2011, I asked for a transfer to that side of the magazine, almost solely for the chance to work with Jim. I’m glad I did.

Special Ops: The Hidden World of America’s Toughest Warriors Excerpt: How Mavericks Reinvented the Military

The first time most Americans heard the name Stanley McChrystal was in mid-2009, when President Obama promoted him to four-star general and commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. The appointment took many in Washington by surprise too: Stanley who? McChrystal was not a man accustomed to the schmoozing rituals of the Beltway. But national security cognoscenti knew exactly who he was: a killer. Having just completed a five-year stint as the chief of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees America’s most secret military units, like SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force, Stan McChrystal was the quintessential black-ops warrior. McChrystal was one of a new generation of military leaders who became top commanders in the post-9/11 era and completed the transition from a military run by Cold Warriors like Norman Schwarzkopf, Tommy Franks, and Colin Powell to one focused on terrorism and the so-called small wars that prevail today.

It wasn’t easy being a journalist of Jim’s generation, coming at a time when staffs were far and large, and then seeing it all change. But he was never daunted. I remember being in Austin with Jim in 2013, shortly after he had decided to leave TIME. He talked about his desire to try something new, to take advantage of the changes happening to our profession. He and his wife Charlotte, whom he met in London when both were TIME editors, were putting that plan into action when they settled in San Francisco, where they launched Hybrid Vigor Media. I regret that I won’t get to see the next phase of Jim’s amazing career, to see his next step. But I’ll miss him more.

More by Jim Frederick: A Lone Madman or a Broken System?

TIME Environment

Toledo, Ohio, Headed for Third Day With Drinking Water Ban

Algae in Lake Erie may have caused toxin levels to rise

Updated Aug. 4, 6:40 a.m. ET

Water tests on Sunday night showed a toxin thought to come from an algae bloom was continuing to contaminate the regional water supply from Lake Erie, threatening to leave residents of Toledo, Ohio, and part of Michigan without drinking water for a third full day, but officials said the results were improving.

Residents of Toledo and the surrounding area had been instructed on Saturday neither to drink their tap water or using it to brush their teeth, nor boil it, which would increase the concentration of microsystin, the Associated Press reports. Ingestion of the toxin could cause diarrhea, vomiting and other health issues.

While the city’s health department originally said the roughly 400,000 affected residents were free to take baths and showers, it advised that children and people with liver disease and sensitive skin avoid using water from the city’s treatment plant to bathe, CBS News reports. As of Sunday night, no serious illnesses had yet been reported.

City council members in Toledo, Ohio’s fourth-largest city, are due to go over the results at a meeting on Monday, the AP adds.

Ohio Governor John Kasich declared a state of emergency on Saturday and couldn’t say how long the warning would last or what caused the spike in toxin levels. He said the state was working to provide supplies and safe water for the affected areas.

“What’s more important than water? Water’s about life,” Kasich said. “We know it’s difficult. We know it’s frustrating.”

In a Saturday press conference, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins called upon residents to stay calm.

“I don’t believe we’ll ever be back to normal,” he said, the Toledo Blade reports. “But this is not going to be our new normal. We’re going to fix this. Our city is not going to be abandoned.”

Meanwhile, police officers went to stores to keep the peace as residents stocked up on water in a scene one local said “looked like Black Friday.”

“People were hoarding it,” a different resident, Monica Morales, told the AP. “It’s ridiculous.”

One farmer from a nearby village, John Myers, put 450 gallons of well water into a container on his pickup truck and offered it up at no charge in a high school parking lot.

“I never thought I’d see the day that I’d be giving water away,” he said.

While the city runs more tests, the Environmental Protection Agency office in Cincinnati will also investigate water samples from the lake.

Though water plants along Lake Erie, which provides hydration for 11 million people, treat the water to combat algae, plant operators have grown concerned with threats from toxins in the past few years. A similar warning was in place for a small Ohio township roughly one year ago.

[CBS]

MORE: SlideshowToledo Ohio Crisis

 

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