Internal EPA E-Mail: ‘Not Sure Flint Is the Community We Want to Go Out on a Limb For’

By Melanie Arter | March 17, 2016 | 1:46pm EDT

( – A Sept. 24, 2015 internal e-mail from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 Water Division Branch Chief Debbie Baltazar suggests that the federal agency might not want to “go out on a limb for” the community of Flint, Mich., which has been suffering from lead-tainted water since 2014 when the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River.

“We’ve included information on Flint’s financial practices, as we think Susan needs to be aware,” the e-mail said, referring to then Region 5 EPA administrator Susan Hedman, who later resigned in January over her handling of the water crisis. “Perhaps she already knows this, but I’m not sure Flint is the community we want to go out on a limb for,” Baltazar added.


House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Thursday during its third hearing on the Flint water crisis that the e-mail was “one of the more offensive” and “concerning” things he’s seen.

“It’s one of the more offensive, concerning things I’ve seen, that there were people – more than one that were making decisions and thinking, well maybe Flint isn’t who we should go out on a limb for,” Chaffetz said in his opening statement.

“Are you kidding me? Of all the communities out there, Flint is the number one place that they should have been going out on a limb for. It’s depressed economically. They’re going through their own economic crisis, and there’s internal discussion at the EPA, deciding whether or not we should go out on a limb for (it),” Chaffetz added.

Chaffetz noted that days after that internal e-mail was written, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called Hedman’s work “very encouraging.”

“Gina McCarthy said, ‘They’re making great progress,’” Chaffetz said.

The EPA didn’t take “definitive action” though until January 2016, Chaffetz noted. Hedman resigned in January.

“Later asked about that action, Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator said that that resignation was ‘courageous.’ Courageous,” Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz praised Flint resident Leann Walters, who was in attendance at the hearing, for being one of the first to report problems with the water in February. He also praised EPA Region 5 Regulations Manager Miguel Del Toral, for testing the water in Flint and alerting his colleagues that there was a problem.

As reported, Del Toral wrote a memo on June 24, 2015 sounding the alarm that the lack of corrosion control resulted in high levels of lead in the drinking water.

“Recent drinking water sample results indicate the presence of high lead results in the drinking water, which is to be expected in a public water system that is not providing corrosion control treatment,” he wrote.

Del Toral also explained that “the practice of pre-flushing before collecting compliance samples has been shown to result in the minimization of lead capture and significant underestimation of lead levels in the drinking water.”

“By June, EPA clearly knew that this was a crisis. They absolutely knew that this was a problem, and Susan Hedman is the administrator for the Region 5. She definitively knew that there was a problem,” Chaffetz said at Thursday’s hearing.

“The mayor at the time asked what had happened. Is the water safe to drink? He was told … pay no attention to the report that was written by the EPA and actually went on local television and told people it was safe to drink the water,” Chaffetz added.

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