Could Flint water crisis lead to criminal charges? Michigan prosecutor investigates.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he is looking into whether any laws have been broken in the ongoing crisis involving lead-contaminated water.

Dale G. Young/Detroit News/AP
Michigan Nation Guard Sgt. Steve Kiger (l.) of Harrison, Mich., stacks cases of drinking water with Red Cross volunteer Franklin Dickerson of Pleasant Ridge Wednesday in Flint, Mich. Members of the Michigan National Guard began arriving in Flint on Wednesday for briefings on the drinking water crisis, ahead of a larger contingent of Guardsmen who will help distribute bottled water, filters and other supplies to residents.

Michigan’s attorney general announced Friday that he plans to investigate Flint’s lead-contaminated drinking water, while the state’s governor requested federal aid to address the ongoing crisis.

On Friday morning, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he would investigate whether any laws were violated in the crisis. Federal prosecutors are already working with the Environmental Protection Agency on an investigation into Flint's water supply.

"No one should have to fear something as basic as turning on the kitchen faucet," Mr. Schuette said, adding in a statement that work on the investigation will begin immediately. He described the situation in Flint as "a human tragedy in which families are struggling with even the most basic parts of daily life."

Schuette’s announcement came just hours after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced he's asking President Obama to issue both an emergency and an expedited major disaster declaration.

"We are utilizing all state resources to ensure Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water," Governor Snyder said, "and today I am asking President Obama to provide additional resources."

The assistance package could include funding for temporary housing, home repairs, and other needs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will review the request and advise Mr. Obama as soon as possible, according to an agency spokesman.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the request will be considered "expeditiously."

The emergency measures could cost $41 million, including $10 million for a three-month supply of clean drinking water, according to Michigan’s application for the federal disaster declaration.

Flint’s water supply was tainted with lead after the city changed its source of drinking water in 2014 in an effort to cut costs. Michigan officials declared a public health emergency on Oct. 1, more than a year after the switch.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Jessica Mendoza reported earlier this week that “the crisis is emblematic of the consequences when local leaders seek quick fixes in the face of financial troubles”

But the city’s drinking water disaster also stems from a conundrum both deeper and broader in scope, water policy experts say. Decades of inadequate replacement and repair of aging water infrastructure has resulted in a nationwide problem that cuts across income brackets and city lines. These water systems need to be replaced – at a cost of perhaps $330 billion nationwide.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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