A former Environmental Protection Agency official denied on Tuesday that the federal agency made mistakes in overseeing the Flint water crisis and said that the EPA repeatedly tried to get state officials to act as soon as it was notified of the city’s elevated lead levels.
Susan Hedman, the EPA’s former Midwest Region 5 administrator, told a Congressional hearing investigating the city’s lead crisis that she has been unfairly criticized for her handling of Flint lead issues.
“I don’t think anyone at EPA did anything wrong, but I do believe we could have done more,” Hedman said. She also claimed that reports of an EPA employee being disciplined after he raised alarms about the city’s lead levels were false.
Flint switched its water source in April 2014 from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money. Soon after the switch, Flint residents repeatedly complained of foul smells and odd discoloration in their tap water. It wasn’t until outside researchers found elevated levels of lead in the municipal water supply and in the blood samples of children in Flint that city and state officials publicly acknowledged issues involving lead and asked residents to stop drinking the water in October 2015.
Legislators repeatedly asked Hedman about a memo written on June 24, 2015, by EPA scientist Miguel del Toral stating that Flint was in violation of the federal lead and copper rule and did not have corrosion control to prevent lead from leaching into the water supply. The memo noted that recent water samples showed elevated lead levels in Flint homes.
“We emphatically and urgently told the MDEQ [Michigan Department of Environmental Quality] that it was important to implement corrosion control as soon as possible,” Hedman told the Congressional committee Tuesday.
Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards, a researcher who also testified Tuesday and was instrumental in publicizing Flint’s lead levels, accused the EPA of silencing del Toral following his memo.
“I don’t think Ms. Hedman understands the climate she created,” Edwards said Tuesday. “Even before del Toral wrote that memo, he told me he had to protect Flint’s children while minimizing the possibility that he would be retaliated against.”
Hedman, however, said del Toral was not disciplined and she had “no knowledge” of anyone in the EPA who did so.
“I did not sit on the sidelines, and I did not downplay any concerns raised by EPA scientists or apologize for any memos they wrote,” said Hedman, who resigned from the EPA in February.
The committee’s investigation will continue Thursday, when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will testify on what his office knew about the city’s lead levels.