Howard Croft ignored important warning signs showing Flint water was corrosive
On May 23-26, Howard Croft’s deposition was played in court. Croft served as Director of the Flint Department of Public Works, which was responsible for the provision of safe drinking water in Flint, from December 2011 through November 2015, when he resigned.
In January 2021, Croft was criminally charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty for his role in the Flint Water Crisis.
Croft was involved in the decision to use the Flint River as an interim water drinking source, even though the Plant was not equipped to treat it, and he ignored important warning signs showing the water was corrosive following the switch from Detroit Water.
Here’s what you need to know.
Mr. Croft failed to ensure the Flint Water Treatment Plant (FWTP) was ready to go online, pushing forward with the switch from Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) over the objections of Plant staff.
- Although Mr. Croft knew that Flint River was only ever intended to be a backup water source, he took no steps to analyze the water’s chemistry before the switch or ascertain what impact the water would have on Flint’s pipes and population. He admitted not knowing the composition of the service lines that provided water to residents in Flint.
- Mr. Croft could not recall any discussion at a June 2013 planning meeting at the Water Treatment Plant about what the City of Flint needed to do to meet the requirements or regulations of the Safe Water Drinking Act in terms of lead and copper testing, nor whether or not the water needed corrosion control to be safe.
- Mr. Croft never authorized any studies on these issues, nor did he reach out to officials at the MDEQ who offered to answer his technical questions concerning safety regulations for drinking water.
- Mr. Croft pressured FWTP employees to distribute drinking water to Flint residents even though the Water Quality Supervisor repeatedly warned Croft about the Plant’s lack of staffing and resources and its inability to produce safe drinking water.
- In response to pleas from Flint Water Treatment Operator Michael Glasgow to delay the switch 90-100 days to give him more time to prepare for the safe treatment of water, Croft said, “We have to meet this deadline. No is not an answer or an option.”
Following the switch to the Flint River, Mr. Croft ignored important warning signs about the corrosiveness of the water.
- When presented with a piece of lead service line pipe in October 2014 that had corroded due to the absence of phosphates in the water, Mr. Croft made no effort to escalate the concern to anyone above him.
- He did not instruct people under his supervision to find out if it was a system wide problem, nor did he contact the EPA regarding the issue. He testified he did not have the expertise to understand the problem even though it was his responsibility to oversee the provision of safe drinking water in Flint.
- Mr. Croft continued to assure the public that the Flint River water was high quality and complied with all state and Federal requirements even after he saw the corroded pipe and received hundreds of citizen complaints about the unusual color, taste and smell of the water.
- When Michael Glasgow informed Mr. Croft in February 2015 about the high lead levels in Flint’s distribution system and the potential for more widespread lead issues, he failed to investigate further and informed his staff to quickly isolate the issue to a single home, if possible.
Mr. Croft also withheld critical information about lead from the Flint Technical Water Advisory Committee and failed to adequately investigate the City’s lead testing program.
- Mr. Croft did not share the high lead level results from LeeAnne Walter’s home with members of the TWAC, including VNA, even though the second round of testing happened just days before its inaugural meeting.
- He also did not disclose he had seen the corroded lead service line pipe in October 2014, which potentially indicated a system wide issue with lead.
- While Mr. Croft was aware of EPA whistleblower Miguel Del Toral’s criticisms of the City’s lead testing procedures, which he felt were causing deceptively low lead results, he never followed up with Mr. Del Toral or read his report.
- He also did not ask his direct reports at the Water Treatment Plant or anyone else in the Water Distribution Services Center how they were conducting lead testing and whether it was giving a false sense of security around actual lead levels.