Flint mayor backs formation of stronger water management team

The mayor of Flint, Michigan, where lead-contaminated drinking water went unaddressed for months, wants to empower a more robust water management team to comply with federal safety standards, her spokeswoman said on Saturday.

Mayor Karen Weaver was responding to a letter sent on Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that said the city had failed to demonstrate it had an “adequate number of qualified personnel” to ensure safe drinking water.

“To the claims about qualified personnel, Mayor Weaver looks forward to working with the EPA and the state and federal governments to build the additional capacity needed for Flint to comply with all state and federal rules for safe drinking water,” Kristin Moore, a city spokeswoman, said in an email.

The mayor’s response underscored that the city could face tight scrutiny over its handling of the crisis, after much of the blame had previously fallen on state officials.

The EPA’s letter was part of fallout from a 2014 decision to switch Flint’s water supply from Detroit’s system to a local river. The move was a cost-cutting measure In 2014 when the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.

The more corrosive water from the river leached lead from water system pipes and into hundreds of homes. The city of 100,000 residents switched back last October after tests found children had elevated levels of lead in their blood, a condition that can lead to problems like learning disabilities, shorter stature and impaired hearing, according to the EPA.

The EPA letter called on city and state officials to develop a comprehensive plan to control the corrosion of water pipes. And it said that even as the city moves forward with the replacement of old pipes, having a plan to control corrosion is still important.

More than 500 protesters led by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson marched to the Flint water plant on Friday to demand clean water and the replacement of corroding pipes.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder asked state lawmakers last week to provide $195 million in aid for Flint on top of $37 million already approved for the current and fiscal 2017 budget. The additional funds would pay for health, nutritional and educational programs, fund infrastructure projects and provide relief to residents paying water bills.

Weaver has said Snyder’s allocation of $25 million to remove lead pipes falls short of the estimated $55 million price tag. Snyder pledged an additional $2 million to remove lead pipes on Thursday.

Snyder, a Republican, has faced sharp criticism for his response to the problem and the issue has also become a focus of the U.S. presidential campaign.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Andrew Hay)

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