Facts from the courtroom
June 23, 2022

Testimony – EPA was aware of a serious lead problem unfolding in Flint by February 2015

On June 21 and 22, 2022, Jennifer Crooks’ deposition was played in court. Ms. Crooks was the Program Manager for Michigan’s Drinking Water Program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the crisis in Flint. Her role was to ensure that Michigan had adequate resources and expertise to comply with the Safe Water Drinking Act.

Ms. Crooks’ testimony confirmed that the EPA was aware of a serious lead problem unfolding in Flint by February 2015 and failed to take necessary measures to prevent the crisis from worsening. Her testimony also confirmed that the MDEQ repeatedly assured the EPA that Flint was implementing corrosion control treatment, even though the MDEQ knew this was true. Ultimately, Ms. Crooks’ testimony demonstrated that the Flint Water Crisis was a catastrophic failure of government at every level—federal, state, and local. 

Here’s what you need to know.

The EPA and MDEQ ignored complaints from Flint residents about their drinking water quality for more than a year.

  • Ms. Crooks testified that, beginning in mid-May 2014, she became aware of numerous citizen complaints about the water in Flint, including “rotten egg smell, swamp water smell [and] people developing rashes.”
  • She stated that she prepared and circulated a briefing document regarding the switch in 2014 that asserted the EPA had contacted MDEQ about numerous complaints the EPA had received about the City’s water quality. 
  • Yet for more than a year, the officials in charge of the City’s water supply failed to act on these citizen concerns and continued to reject a return to Detroit Water.
  • When asked if the EPA had any discussions with the MDEQ about Flint returning to DWSD, Ms. Crooks testified that “their answer was: that’s Flint’s decision, not ours.”

City and State officials failed to inform VNA or Flint residents about exceptionally high lead test results.

  • Ms. Crooks testified that she began speaking with Ms. Walters about her water quality complaints in mid-January 2015.
  • When she learned of Ms. Walters’ high lead test results in February 2015, Ms. Crooks alerted Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby of the MDEQ, as well as her colleagues at the EPA, saying in an email: “Wow!!! Did he [Mr. Glasgow] find the LEAD! 104 ppb. She has 2 children under the age of 3… Big worries here.”
  • Even though VNA was on site at the Plant while the agencies were circulating and discussing these results, no one ever told VNA about them or informed the people of Flint.

The MDEQ initially told the EPA that Flint was using corrosion control and later claimed it was not required despite the clear evidence that the water was corrosive.

  • Ms. Crooks testified that Mr. Busch initially told her that Flint had an optimized corrosion control program. 
  • Busch later admitted to Ms. Crooks that Flint was not practicing corrosion control treatment and that there were no additional requirements for the City of Flint based on the levels of lead and copper in the source water and the results of the lead and copper distribution monitoring – even after the results from LeeAnne Walters’ home. 
  • Ms. Crooks testified that the MDEQ disagreed with the EPA’s interpretation of the Lead and Copper Rule, claiming it was enough for Flint to conduct two rounds of lead and copper testing before it would consider requiring corrosion control measures.

City and State officials ignored EPA whistleblower Miguel Del Toral’s warnings on how the Flint was conducting lead and copper testing and even sought to block his report.

  • Ms. Crooks testified that Mr. Del Toral told MDEQ officials that the practice of instructing residents to run water for a few minutes before taking a sample—a practice known as pre-flushing—was likely to cause the results to understate the amount of lead in the water. 
  • She further testified that Mr. Del Toral warned the MDEQ that pre-flushing meant that the test results provided false assurance to residents about the safety of the water. 
  • When Mr. Del Toral raised this issue with the MDEQ’s Liane Shekter-Smith, she told him the rules allowed pre-flushing and that the agency would not change its approach.
  • Ms. Crooks testified that EPA management told her not to distribute Mr. Del Toral’s report in the summer of 2015 because it was a draft that had not been finalized or reviewed by the agency. Del Toral’s report wouldn’t be finalized and made public for another five months.