Walling and Flint officials did not tell VNA of the high lead test results found in Flint
On March 31 and April 4-6, 2022, Former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling testified that, although he had been informed about dangerously high levels of lead in the tap water of Flint resident LeAnne Walters in early March 2015, he did not share this information with VNA. Even worse, when the EPA raised concerns about high lead levels in June 2015—several months after VNA had completed their work—Mayor Walling still did nothing to address the problem.
Here’s what you need to know.
Mayor Walling and Flint officials did not tell VNA of the high lead test results found in Flint resident LeeAnne Walters’ home.
Read the transcript:
Q. Okay. So [Leanne Walters] had a high lead test result, the family had a high lead test result that was seven times the limit. And when you learned that information, VNA was still working there, right?
Q. And it was two weeks to the day after VNA signed its contract to do the work, correct?
Q. And you didn’t contact VNA to tell them about this result, did you?
A. I did not.
Q. You didn’t contact Michael Glasgow [Flint Water Treatment Plant Supervisor] after Howard Croft [Flint Director of Public Works] briefed you about this lead result?
A. I recall communicating with just Mr. Howard Croft about it. So no to Glasgow.
Q. And you didn’t go contact Ms. LeeAnne Walters after this, learning of this test result, did you?
A. I did not.
Q. You didn’t contact the MDEQ [Michigan Department of Environmental Quality]?
A. I did not.
Q. And the gentleman you identified in the courtroom, Mr. Warren Green [LAN Engineer], you didn’t contact him, did you?
A. I did not.
Q. You needed water advice from VNA, right?
Q. But you didn’t tell them on the very day you saw this email or in that time period that there was lead found at a resident’s home, correct?
Q. Did you tell Mr. Glasgow to make sure that Veolia was told about this lead test result?
Q. Did you tell Mr. Bincsik [Flint Public Works Administrator] to make sure that Veolia was told about this lead test result?
Q. Did you tell Mr. Croft to make sure that VNA was told?
Q. Did you tell Mr. Ambrose [Flint Emergency Manager]?
A. No. I don’t recall asking or, you know, directing anyone to do that.
- Upon learning of the news that there was a high lead result in the home of LeAnne Walters, Mayor Walling did not contact VNA, nor speak to key City and State officials about it, including Flint Water Department employee Michael Glasgow or members of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Nor did he instruct anyone from the City of Flint to inform VNA of said test results.
- Even after the media inquired about the test results, Mayor Walling did not inform VNA, nor instruct anyone from the City to inform VNA of their existence.
- The article “Who Wants to Drink Flint’s Water?”, which plaintiffs presented as proof that VNA should have known about the problems with Ms. Walter’s water, did not mention lead and was written and published before VNA had even submitted a proposal in response to Flint’s RFP, let alone started to analyze the situation.
- The City never asked VNA to look into lead contamination, nor did they give any indication they were in possession of high lead test results.
- The limited test results VNA received from Flint officials showed the water was in compliance with State and Federal regulations. The engineers had no reason to suspect the City provided faulty lead testing data to them.
- Nonetheless, VNA did identify that the water was corrosive and therefore recommended corrosion control in their final report, anticipating potential lead problems could occur if corrosion was not addressed. This recommendation was ignored by Flint officials – the only people with the power to act.
Mr. Walling never investigated the need for corrosion control — despite it being part of the original water system design developed by LAN and a key recommendation in VNA’s report to the City
- City officials were aware of what corrosion control was and its necessity long before VNA arrived in Flint.
- Despite their firsthand knowledge of potential lead contamination in the City’s aging infrastructure, City and State chose to ignore expert advice to install corrosion control from the beginning of the process of switching the City’s water source and instead relied on a “wait and see” approach on the advice and endorsement of the MDEQ.
- Following VNA’s presentation at the public meeting on February 18, 2015, during which VNA told the City that it was making corrosive water, the Mayor never asked Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose or Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft about the corrosive water conditions referenced at the meeting, despite the fact that he included VNA’s comments in his hand-written notes from the meeting.
- After VNA issued its final report to the City on March 12, 2015, which recommended Flint implement corrosion control to treat the corrosive river water, the Mayor did not contact the City’s engineer to learn more about corrosion treatment.
- At no time did the Mayor go to the Flint Water Treatment Plant to follow up on the corrosive water. Indeed, the Mayor made no effort to research what corrosion control was or ask VNA about the treatment.
- After reading EPA whistleblower Miguel Del Toral’s report in June 2015, linking corrosion control to lead contamination, Mr. Walling still did not contact VNA to follow up on the corrosion control recommendation or consider a switch back to Detroit Water.
Read the transcript:
Q. So when you saw this [EPA interim] report [in June 2015], you didn’t go back to VNA and say, “I read your final report, and now the EPA is telling me that lead and corrosion control are connected,” did you?
A. I did not.
Q. You didn’t go to Warren Green and say, “You’ve done work for us. Is there a connection between corrosion control and lead,” did you?
Q. You didn’t call the DEQ and ask them about the relationship between corrosion control and lead, did you?
A. I did not.
Q. And this was late June-early July, of 2015?
A. Yes. It was right around that time.
Q. Thank you. So when you testified yesterday, you said that you read the VNA report back and forth. And you testified that if they had mentioned the word “lead,” you would have done something different, correct?
Q. You said, “I guarantee you,” didn’t you?
Q. The EPA, Miguel Del Toral put “lead” in his report, correct?
Q. “Lead” occurs in this report, the word, more than 20 times; is it fair to say?
Q. And at that time, you did not do anything to switch back to the DWSD, did you?
A. I didn’t take any action towards DWSD at the time.
Q. You didn’t even start studying whether it was plausible to return to the DWSD, did you?
A. Not at that time.
Q. Did you write the president at that time?
Q. Did you write the governor at that time?
A. No. The governor came a little bit later.
Q. Months later, correct?
Q. So as of early July, 2015, you had corrosion control, you had lead, you had a report saying that you had danger, correct?
Q. And you had already seen at least one of your citizens, one of your constituents suffering — or with a high lead test result coming from the water in their home, correct?
- Not until August 31, 2015 – almost six months after VNA issued its final report to the City – did Mayor Walling seek more information about corrosion control.
Mayor Walling and City officials failed to take expedient action to treat the river water or consider a return to Detroit Water.
Read the transcript:
Q. Did there come a time when the city council decided to make a vote with respect to returning to the DWSD?
Q. And what did they vote?
A. The city council voted to reconnect to DWSD. I don’t recall the number, the for and against, but it was pretty strongly for.
Q. And at that point in time [March 2015], did you make a statement about returning?
Q. And what was your statement?
A. My statement was that I was not in favor of reconnecting to Detroit. We had safe water that met the standards. And it was something that I thought deserved further examination and research.
- After learning of the high lead test result found in LeeAnne Walters’ home, Mr. Walling never set up a formal meeting with Mr. Croft to discuss next steps, nor inquire about additional lead testing in Flint.
Read the transcript:
A. The conversation Mr. Croft and I were having were, like, informal.
A. Like he — like he — I’d grab him for a minute, and we’d sit down in my office. At this point, he’s reporting to the city administrator, Natasha Henderson. So my primary information about this was coming from those brief conversations with Mr. Croft that I believe occurred about once a week.
Q. Okay. So at that point in time, you were getting informal information. You did not have a more important matter on your desk than the health and safety of Flint residents at that time; is that correct?
A. Ever. Correct, yes.
Q. And you were content to only have informal meetings with Mr. Croft at that point in time?
A. Well, each week I was hearing the — you know, the steps and the new information, and I believed the city was making good progress. I mean, it is something that I look back on. I question myself about it.
- During the inaugural meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee on March 4, 2015, comprised of City officials and water quality experts, Mr. Walling did not bring up Ms. Walters’ high lead test results or the need to test more households in Flint – despite admitting this would have strengthened his understanding of the lead issue and the need to switch back to DSWD.
Read the transcript here:
Q. So at this meeting, you had quite an assembly of water expertise; is that fair to say?
Q. And was that part of the purpose for this assembly?
A. Yes. This was one of the steps that we were taking as a city engaging Veolia, creating a broad community water advisory committee and then this technical, kind of, you know, water treatment engineering. So these are people who have technical or work experience or credentials around water.
Q. And the date of this email is Thursday, March 5 of 2015; is that correct?
Q. So if this email sent on March 5 and refers to a meeting the prior day, this is approximately March 4 that the meeting occurred?
A. Yes. I believe it did.
Q. Okay. So tell me what you recall about the agenda for that meeting.
A. I was — I was at that meeting to show that, you know, myself, and others — I mean, myself, the emergency manager were engaged and valued the contributions that these individuals [water experts]– you know, they’re taking time. We had this meeting in this committee room, one of the committee rooms. The larger room for the city council. The door was open. You asked me about the agenda. Sorry. I’m trying to prompt my memory. Well, I know the Veolia presentation that’s mentioned there in the attachments was a part of those discussions. I think there were some of the same points that had been shared with the Public Works Committee, as I recall. I don’t — I don’t remember more about an agenda. There probably were welcome and introductions. It’s the first time these people were getting to know each other. I think we had a couple on conference call. Maybe there’s another document. But I don’t –
Q. So this meeting occurred two days after that email from Ron Fonger about the lead, high lead test results?
Q. It occurred two days after a discussion of conducting more tests to see if other homes had high lead content in the tap water, correct?
Q. This was a good opportunity to talk about high lead test results. Would you agree?
A. In retrospect, I very much agree.
Q. But you didn’t bring it up, did you?
A. I did not.
- The Mayor admitted he was unaware of how many homes were tested in Flint following Walters’ test result and never recalled asking Mr. Croft, or anyone else in City government, for this information.
- The Mayor never recalled asking or seeing specific results on lead testing until he received MDEQ’s order to the City of Flint in October 2015 to add corrosion control.
- The Mayor remained steadfast in his opposition to switching back to DSWD as late as March 2015 because he trusted the water testing – even after the high lead test results found in LeeAnne Walters’ home and at the University of Michigan.
- The return to Detroit Water was also repeatedly rejected by Flint officials, including Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose who told VNA it was “incomprehensible” to switch water sources.
Mayor Walling and City officials ignored the vast majority of VNA’s recommendations and never followed up with them to install corrosion control.
- 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 on 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 the City itself was going to implement VNA’s corrosion control recommendations, but the City never did.
- 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.
- Had the City implemented corrosion control at VNA’s recommendation, the crisis could have been mitigated much sooner, with fewer victims.
In sworn, 4,000-word testimony to the U.S. Congress in 2016, Mr. Walling excoriated Michigan State officials for making the decisions that caused and prolonged the water crisis.
- Mr. Walling affirmed that the State officials opted to switch the water source as a cost-saving measure, with little regard for the human consequence.
- His statement repeatedly points to the State’s Emergency Managers and Governor Snyder, amongst others, for making the choice to switch Flint’s water source and not taking mitigatory action sooner.
- The City’s decision to ignore VNA’s recommendations followed a pattern of negligence that led to and prolonged the crisis, leaving Flint residents to suffer as a result.