Facts from the courtroom
April 21, 2022

Gerald Ambrose refused to consider a return to Detroit Water even after residents reported getting sick

On April 19-20, 2022, Former Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose’s deposition was played in court. Mr. Ambrose, who is now under indictment for his negligence, played a key role in approving the use of the Flint River as an interim water source for the City. He refused to consider a return to Detroit Water even after Flint residents reported getting sick from drinking and bathing in the contaminated river water. 

Mr. Ambrose admitted he lied to Congress in 2016 when he told them he was unaware of lead issues in the Flint water during his tenure as Emergency Manager. 

Rather than take the stand and answer questions in front of the jury about his role in the Flint Water Crisis, Mr. Ambrose pled the 5th Amendment. He has recently joined with other indicted government officials in expressing, through his lawyer, that he would sooner go to jail for contempt of court than take the stand if forced to testify. 

Here is what else you need to know.

Flint officials failed to inform VNA that they had discovered exceptionally high lead levels in the home of Flint resident LeeAnne Walter in February 2015.

  • Mr. Ambrose admitted that he knew about the high lead level samples found in Flint resident LeeAnne Walter’s home but did not share these results with VNA or instruct anyone else from the City to do so.
  • This follows testimony earlier in the trial from former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling who also admitted, on the stand, that he knew of the lead test results in February 2015 and did nothing to ensure that VNA would receive this critical information.
  • Flint officials withheld Ms. Walter’s lead samples from VNA even though VNA had specifically asked for all lead test results and even though VNA was on the ground in Flint when the City received Ms. Walter’s results.
  • All of the data that Flint officials provided to VNA showed the water was in compliance with State and Federal water standards, which was the basis for VNA’s assessment that the water was safe. 
  • VNA had no choice but to rely on City officials to provide lead test results and had no reason to suspect the City would withhold this information.

Although VNA was not asked to examine the water for lead, VNA employees recognized early on that the water was corrosive and specifically asked City officials to provide data on lead test results. 

  • The City of Flint hired VNA to conduct a one-week review of the operations of the Flint Water Treatment plant and address the problems caused by a cancer-causing chemical (TTHM) in the water and other water aesthetic issues. 
  • The City never asked VNA to look into lead contamination, nor did they give any indication that they were concerned about lead, let alone in possession of high lead test results. 
  • VNA Engineer Marvin Gnagy testified in his deposition that he told Mr. Ambrose he was concerned about corrosivity, and that Mr. Ambrose’s responded, “stick to your scope if you want to get paid.”
  • Nonetheless VNA requested the City provide data on its lead sampling tests and the data they provided showed that the water was within state and federal limits for lead.
  • VNA recommended corrosion control in their final report to address the immediate aesthetic issues that City officials asked them to look into, and to prevent potential lead problems in the future. 
  • Ultimately, VNA’s recommendation to add corrosion control was ignored, as were the rest of their recommendations with the exception of one.

Flint officials refused to consider a return to Detroit Water and they made this clear to VNA on multiple occasions, starting on day one.

  • Mr. Ambrose had no interest in returning to Detroit Water no matter what VNA, or anybody else, recommended. He testified his primary goal was to save money, not the health and safety of its residents. 
  • Mr. Ambrose assisted his predecessor, former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, in crafting a response to DWSD rejecting their offer to return to Detroit Water despite the water quality problems and the concerns of plant staff and residents. 
  • VNA was told by Mr. Ambrose and other Flint officials that returning to Detroit Water was not an option and Mr. Ambrose instructed VNA “not to be drawn into a discussion” on the history or merits of the switch from Detroit Water. 
  • More than a month after Flint officials learned of high lead test results at the home of LeeAnne Walters, Mr. Ambrose called the idea of switching back to Detroit water “incomprehensible” and claimed that the Flint water was “just as safe.”
  • VNA had no power to overrule the government officials who refused to return to Detroit Water.

Flint officials instructed VNA to focus on what was needed, and what the costs would be, to bring the Flint water treatment plant into compliance with respect to TTHMs and red water issues. 

  • Based on the data that the City provided to VNA, combined with their on-site analyses at the plant, VNA concluded that it would be possible to bring the plant into compliance. 
  • In their final report, VNA made a series of recommendations for the City to bring the Flint Water Treatment Plant into compliance based on their expert analysis.
  • Had VNA determined that bringing the plant into compliance was not feasible, they would have said so in their report and recommended that Flint return to Detroit Water as the only option.
  • VNA had no way to know that City officials had withheld critical information that would have significantly impacted their recommendations to the City.

Flint officials ignored almost all of VNA’s recommendations on how to treat the Flint River water. 

  • In their final report to the City, VNA urged Flint officials to work with the City’s engineer and the MDEQ to evaluate the need for corrosion control and the use of phosphate for that purpose. The City of Flint never implemented that suggestion. 
  • With the exception of purchasing a filter, the City of Flint ignored all of VNA’s other proposals and suggestions as to how to improve the quality of the water.
  • After VNA’s work in Flint was complete, VNA followed up to see if the City wanted additional help implementing these recommendations. VNA was told that the City itself was going to implement VNA’s corrosion control recommendations but the City never did.
  • Earlier in the trial, LAN Engineer Warren Green told the Court that he asked City officials if they wanted him to start work on VNA’s recommendations, but never received the go-ahead. 
  • VNA had every reason to think Flint officials would do their job and take appropriate action, but instead their recommendations were ignored, disregarded and dismissed.