EPA Director Sidesteps Question on Whether She'd Have Fired Official Who Resigned in Flint Water Crisis

By Melanie Arter | March 17, 2016 | 10:36am EDT
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – When asked whether she would have fired former EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman for her role in the Flint water crisis if Hedman had not resigned on her own, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday “that was an issue I didn’t need to face.

“If Susan Hedman hadn’t resigned, would you have fired her?” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) asked McCarthy, who testified alongside Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on the water crisis.

 



“That was an issue I didn’t need to face, sir,” McCarthy said. Hedman resigned in January from her post at the EPA.

“As you know, Susan took the choice to submit her resignation knowing that people would question whether that meant she accepted some type of guilt or responsibility for this. She fully accepted responsibility for the situation, and she resigned, and I accepted that resignation. I thought it was the right step for her to take,” McCarthy added.

Amash reiterated his question to McCarthy.

“So the question remains though, would you have fired her?” Amash asked.

“I didn’t have to face that decision, sir,” McCarthy responded.

In a June 24, 2015 memo, EPA Region 5 Regulations Manager Miguel Del Toral warned that the EPA needed to take action. Del Toral, who did not attend Tuesday or Thursday’s committee hearing, was praised by members of the committee for his role in sounding the alarm about the city’s high lead levels.

“A major concern from a public health standpoint is the absence of corrosion control treatment in the City of Flint for mitigating lead and copper levels in the drinking water,” Del Toral wrote in the memo. “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.

“The lack of any mitigating treatment for lead is of serious concern for residents that live in homes with lead service lines or partial lead service lines, which are common throughout the City of Flint,” Del Toral added.

Furthermore, the memo explained that the practice of pre-flushing prevented samples from accurately reflecting the level of lead in the water.

“The lack of mitigating treatment is especially concerning as the high lead levels will likely not be reflected in the City of Flint's compliance samples due to the sampling procedures used by the City of Flint for collecting compliance samples,” the memo stated. “The instructions from the City of Flint to residents direct the residents to 'pre-flush' the taps prior to collecting the compliance samples.

“A copy of the instructions provided by the City of Flint to residents will be included in the final report. 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,” Del Toral wrote.

As CNSNews.com previously reported, Hedman told the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday that Del Toral’s memo “actually dealt with lead at one residence and two neighboring residences, and the conclusion of the final version of his memo was that the problem had been caused by physical disturbance of a lead service line and that it was particular to that household.”

Hedman explained that the EPA could not go public with the report, because it contained sensitive information that needed to be redacted.

The memo “contained personally identifiable information - health information - and that kind of information is not something that we could release, and so before a report is released, that is typically redacted by our office of regional counsel.”

“So a black pen would take 10 seconds or so?” Chaffetz asked.

“Right, and secondly, the material in the report included enforcement sensitive information, and we do not release that to the targets or to the general public. Again, that would have been a redaction issue,” Hedman said.

“Additionally, there was data in the report that we neither collected nor analyzed, and it needed to go through a kind of standard QAQC. I directed that be done as soon as possible. It was my expectation that the report could be finalized and put in a form that could be publicly released before the reporter had to file his story. That was my expectation at the time,” she said.

“And it took seven months,” Chaffetz noted.

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