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Who's To Blame For Flint's Water Problem?
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Who's To Blame For Flint's Water Problem?

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Who's To Blame For Flint's Water Problem?

Who's To Blame For Flint's Water Problem?
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For many people, the blame for the tap water contamination in Flint, Mich., lies with Gov. Rick Snyder. Despite his apologies for the state's missteps, calls for his resignation have been growing.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're heading back now to Flint, Mich., where we have been following the water crisis. You might recall that when the government switched drinking water sources, the number of children with higher lead levels has doubled. That's since 2014. For almost four months, people have been told not to drink the tap water because there's too much lead in it. Just yesterday, President Obama declared a state of emergency for Michigan, ordering federal aid for local response efforts. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reports.

LINDSEY SMITH, BYLINE: Karen Weaver means business. She was elected mayor of Flint in November. And in office, one of the first things she did was to declare an emergency at the city. She pushed for a similar declaration of the state and federal level. Saturday night at Flint City Hall, she shared some good news from the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

KAREN WEAVER: I just want to say that the president has granted our request for an emergency declaration.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yeah.

SMITH: In an odd way, getting this federal recognition is a big win for the city - a validation of sorts. Flint's man-made disaster has been festering for more than a year. The city was being run by state-appointed emergency manager when they made the decision to get cheaper tap water from the Flint River. After that switch, the state's environmental regulators misdirected city officials on how to treat the water. And when local pediatricians produced data showing more kids were being exposed to lead, state officials initially discredited the findings. The Department of Justice and Michigan's attorney general are looking into the matter. In the meantime, Gov. Snyder has repeatedly apologized to the people in Flint, and true to form, he's focusing on what he calls relentless positive action.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

RICK SNYDER: Let's focus in on - there's a commitment to solve the problem in Flint, and I sincerely mean that. Hopefully, you can see that. We're taking every action within reason and actually asking people to go beyond reasonable to help address this question because this is something nobody wanted to see ever happen. And we're doing our best to take care of it.

SMITH: Snyder repeatedly takes the time to list the things the state has done since October - tested the water at schools. State has handed out nearly 50,000 water filters and 20,000 cases of water, but...

SNYDER: Those actions were not good enough. We've worked hard, but we need to get more connection to the citizens of Flint.

SMITH: More than 40 percent of people in Flint live in poverty. And they don't have the means to drive to a distribution center once a week and load a case or two of free bottled water in their trunks. That's why Snyder started sending teams door to door last week. He activated the Michigan National Guard and asked the federal government for help, but that's not enough for many Flint residents. Nayyirah Shariff was among a couple hundred protesters who gathered outside Snyder's office Thursday. She says the only thing Governor Snyder can do to appease Flint residents is to resign.

NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: This happened under his watch. His agencies covered it up, and he can flush his apology down the toilet because it's - that's all it's worth.

SMITH: Flint Mayor Karen Weaver told residents the federal emergency declaration means the federal government - not state officials - will coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

WEAVER: And they will continue to assess our conditions and see what needs to happen next. The fight is not over, but this is a huge hurdle that we have surpassed.

SMITH: The federal government will provide up to $5 million for free bottled water, filters and water testing kits, but that'll barely make a dent in Flint's long-term needs. Early estimates show the damage done to the city's water infrastructure alone will be at least $760 million. For NPR News, I'm Lindsey Smith.

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