FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Emails show senior employees at an engineering company hired by Flint were concerned about lead in the city’s water in 2015 but didn’t go public, news organizations reported Tuesday.
The Guardian and MLive.com said the emails turned up as part of a lawsuit against Veolia North America by the Michigan attorney general’s office. The company is accused of failing to help Flint and state regulators avert the lead-contaminated water crisis when the city pulled water from the Flint River in 2014-15.
In a February 2015 email, a Veolia vice president, Rob Nicholas, said the company had identified a risk of lead contamination, The Guardian and MLive reported.
“Do not pass this on,” Nicholas wrote. “The City however needs to be aware of this problem with lead and operate the system to minimize this as much as possible and consider the impact in future plans. We had already identified that as something to be reviewed.”
Veolia technology vice president Bill Fahey urged senior executives to advise Flint to change its water supply, saying “the politics of this should not get in the way of making the best recommendation.”
In another email, he said: “PLEASE … this will come back and bite us.”
Michigan regulators didn’t acknowledge a lead disaster until fall 2015, 18 months after the switch to the Flint River. The water wasn’t properly treated to reduce corrosion, causing lead to leach from old pipes and fixtures.
A judge last month dismissed much of the state’s civil lawsuit against Veolia and another engineering company, leaving only a claim of unjust enrichment.
Veolia made some public assurances about Flint’s water in 2015. But it insists its role was to analyze bacteria and chlorine, not lead.
Public officials are “trying to create a corporate villain where one does not exist,” Veolia said this week.
“It is critical when analyzing what happened in Flint to remember the context of the situation at the time it occurred; we now know in 2019 the myriad of ways that the government officials behaved badly, but as the Flint water crisis unfolded many of those facts were unknown, concealed and covered up by the government perpetrators,” Veolia told The Guardian and MLive.
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