Multiple federal agencies are now involved in a criminal investigation into the Flint, Mich., water crisis.
Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney's Office in Detroit, said in an email to media that federal prosecutors in Michigan are "working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the EPA's Office of Inspector General ... and the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division."
A governor-appointed emergency manager was overseeing Flint when it switched its source of tap water from Detroit's system to the Flint River in April 2014 as a cost-saving measure. The river water proved corrosive, and leached lead into the city’s tap water, exposing thousands of residents to toxic levels of the element, a problem that early estimates put at hundreds of millions of dollars to solve.
Ms. Balaya shared the FBI’s participation, alongside other agencies that investigate potential criminal wrongdoing, late Monday when asked by the Detroit Free Press if there were concerns over the EPA leading a federal investigation, given that the EPA regional director resigned over the drinking water crisis effective Feb. 1, amid public outcry over the EPA's handling of Flint’s toxic water.
The FBI disclosed it is joining the investigation as the US House Oversight Committee prepares to hold its first hearing on Flint Wednesday.
The Detroit Free Press reports that it is unlikely former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley will agree to testify. Given it is now a criminal investigation, witnesses may opt to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and decline to testify at legislative hearings.
Keith Creagh, the new director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, is expected at the hearing. The previous director resigned in December.
The EPA's acting deputy assistant administrator in its Office of Water has also been invited to testify, along with an EPA researcher who voiced concerns early on about lead in the water, Reuters reports.
Last week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette named a special prosecutor and investigator to look into possible crimes related to the crisis at the state level.
A spokesman for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said the office "will cooperate fully with any authorities looking at what happened in Flint with the water. It’s important to look at missteps at all three levels of government – local, state and federal – so such a crisis doesn’t occur again."
But as The Christian Science Monitor reported Monday, Flint residents are not just waiting to see if government officials will cooperate to bring clean water to the city’s taps. It is also up in the air whether public officials can rebuild the public’s trust in a place where morale is low.
“I had already planned on moving because of the crime, the schools, and the abandoned buildings,” Flint native James Chad Richardson told Yahoo News. “Then the water is like, OK, wow. How many punches to the head am I gonna take?”