by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
The U.S. government had ample time, evidence and powers to protect the people of Flint from being poisoned. Three recent presidents provided federal protection when states refused to do so. “The Flint experience, given political will, could have represented an historic opportunity for the president to intervene as did Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson” in civil rights cases. At the very least, President Obama should fire the EPA chief.
Petition to Fire Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy for Gross Negligence in the Flint Water Crisis
by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“EPA never exercised its power to ‘withdraw primacy’ from the State and to provide federal protection for Flint’s citizens.”
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy violated her responsibilities under the Safe Drinking Water Act with a negligent and callous disregard for the citizens of Flint, Michigan, and specifically for the children of Flint. Because of her negligence children have suffered irreversible brain damage that will change the trajectory of their lives and that of their families. The lead now lodged in their brains will limit their intellectual capacities and adversely affect their futures. Black children, already at risk for the high school to prison pipeline, are now more susceptible to the mass incarcerations system. Freddie Gray, killed by Baltimore police was reportedly lead-poisoned as a child and faced educational challenges as a result.
Poisoned adults could potentially suffer liver and kidney diseases that could pose long-term health effects, including death. In general, the EPA administrator has fostered an environment at EPA that condones and promotes retaliation against whistleblowers and civil rights advocates. In particular, Ms. McCarthy retaliated against an EPA whistleblower that provided compelling evidence of dangerous levels of lead in Flint's water.
Despite Administrator McCarthy’s watery Congressional assertions that she had done everything within her power to help the Flint community as rapidly as possible, it appears that she did not take into consideration her considerable “Emergency Powers” under the Safe Drinking Water Act: section 1431, 42 U.S.C. §300i: "upon receipt of information that a contaminant that is present in or likely to enter a public water system...that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of persons, the EPA Administrator may take any action she deems necessary to protect human health." The Administrator could have issued a cease and desist order against the State of Michigan. She is also required by law to provide Flint residents emergency notification of poisoned water. She did nothing to protect the children, expecting mothers, or others in Flint until the citizens demanded action.
“The EPA Administrator may take any action she deems necessary to protect human health."
According to SDWA section 1447, 42 U.S.C. §300j-6 federal agencies are subject to state requirements for protection of wellhead areas, public water supply systems, and underground injection controls. However, “If the state does not properly enforce the SDWA, EPA may withdraw primacy or take appropriate enforcement action” [my emphasis added.] EPA in the face of Michigan’s inability or refusal to protect the citizens of Flint by enforcing the provisions of the SDWA never exercised its power to “withdraw primacy” from the State and to provide federal protection for Flint’s citizens.
There is ample precedent for President Obama to intervene on the Flint citizenry’s behalf. In the 1950s and 60s, on three separate occasions the President of the United States intervened when states’ recalcitrance was materially injuring US citizens. The first was in 1957, when “President Eisenhower sent Federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas...to open the way for the admission of nine Negro pupils to Central High School.” John F. Kennedy, in 1963 issued “presidential proclamation 3542, forcing Alabama Governor George Wallace to comply with federal court orders allowing two African-American students to register for the summer session at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The proclamation ordered Wallace and all persons acting in concert with him to cease and desist from obstructing justice.” And on March, 18, 1965 Lyndon Johnson notified “Alabama’s Governor George Wallace that he (would) use federal authority to call up the Alabama National Guard in order to supervise a planned civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.” In all three instances, the states relented and the law of the land prevailed.
In the cited cases of presidential intervention around integration, those directly involved were relatively few – yet they were representative of an entire class of people. In Flint, everyone without exception, who received their potable water from the Flint River was affected. Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary responses. The Flint experience, given political will, could have represented an historic opportunity for the president to intervene as did Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. Mr. Obama, however would not declare a state of emergency in Flint until January 16th, nearly a year after the poisoning started.
“We have seen vast mobilizations of facilities – including providing air conditioning and gourmet cafeterias in the desert – for our war efforts abroad.”
Yet under constitutionally sanctioned emergency measures the president could still denote specific remedies for Flint that – unlike Michigan’s emergency plan – could be driven by human health needs rather than austerity. Such a plan could mandate delivery of potable water, facilities for bathing and other sanitary needs and some kind of billeting for large numbers of people. We have seen vast mobilizations of these facilities – including providing air conditioning and gourmet cafeterias in the desert – for our war efforts abroad. And we have seen the domestic distribution of weaponry from those war zones. Why not deploy billeting technologies used for troop quarters overseas to provide the people of Flint with safe lodging and amenities? This could be authorized in cooperation with Congress.
McCarthy knew for months that Flint’s children were drinking, bathing and eating food cooked in poisoned water. That makes the poisoning of the Flint community deliberate and premeditated. Despite the congressional outrage and eloquent pontification for criminal prosecution – the reality is, to date not one official has been charged with a crime. McCarthy’s reign has been malignant. It is time for the president to demand her resignation.
“Not one official has been charged with a crime.”
USA Today reports that there are “over 2,000 additional water systems spanning all 50 states where testing has shown excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four years.
Many of the highest reported lead levels were found at schools and day cares…At an elementary school in Ithaca, N.Y., one sample tested this year at a stunning 5,000 ppb of lead, the EPA’s threshold for “hazardous waste.”
There is massive lead poisoning throughout the United States and we have leadership deficit at EPA with a lack of will or capacity to protect the health and welfare of American families.
While the citizens of Michigan fight to recall Governor Rich Snyder let’s do our part to clean up the EPA.
Lee-Ann Waters, a mother of children poisoned in Flint and I encourage you to sign and circulate the link below demanding that President Obama fire EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet, serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com and coordinates the Hands Up Coalition, DC.