Ex-governor charged in Flint water crisis

David Eggert and Ed White
·2-min read

Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder has been charged with wilful neglect of duty after a new investigation of the Flint water scandal.

The tragedy devastated the majority black city with lead-contaminated water and was blamed for a deadly outbreak of legionnaires' disease in 2014-15.

The two charges, shown in an online court record, are misdemeanours punishable by up to a year in jail and a $US1000 fine.

The alleged offence date is April 25, 2014, when a Snyder-appointed emergency manager who was running the financially struggling city carried out a money-saving decision to use the Flint River for water while a regional pipeline from Lake Huron was under construction.

The corrosive water, however, was not treated properly and released lead from old plumbing into homes in one of the worst manmade environmental disasters in US history.

The charges filed by the attorney-general's office are ground-breaking, as no governor or former governor in Michigan's 184-year history had been charged with crimes related to their time in that office, according to the state archivist.

Besides Snyder, a Republican who served until 2019, charges are expected against other people, including former officials who served as state health director and as a senior adviser.

Despite desperate pleas from residents holding jugs of discoloured water, the Snyder administration took no significant action until a doctor reported elevated lead levels in children about 18 months later.

"I'm sorry and I will fix it," Snyder promised during his 2016 State of the State speech.

Authorities counted at least 90 cases of legionnaires' disease in Genesee County, including 12 deaths.

Some experts found there was not enough chlorine in the water treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems.

The disaster made Flint a national symbol of government dereliction, with residents forced to line up for bottled water and parents fearing their children had suffered permanent harm.