Flint Water Tower

The Flint Water Plant tower is seen, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 in Flint, Mich. Flint is under a public health emergency after its drinking water became tainted when the city switched from the Detroit system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. The city was under state management at the time. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Tuesday night telecast of the PBS news magazine Frontline focused on the Flint water crisis, which began in 2014 when the city switched its water supply from Detroit to the Flint River.

Titled “Flint’s Deadly Water,” the program presented several new hypotheses regarding the number of deaths directly attributable to a massive outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in the city. Previously, 12 people were presumed to have died from the outbreak, which scientists interviewed on the program blame on water untreated for bacteria from the Flint River.

However, the WGBH-Boston produced program concludes that at least 20 people died later from complications related to Legionnaire’s. Further, they estimate at least 70 succumbed to the illness, which was misdiagnosed at the time as pneumonia, which has many similar symptoms.

“Anything that sheds light on our city’s crisis helps the world understand the resiliency of the people of Flint,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Democrat representing Flint.

“As we strive to make sure another water crisis never happens again, it’s important to remember how it happened in the first place,” Ananich continued. “Concerns went ignored, scientists were discredited and the people in charge of keeping us safe went out of their way in attempt to cover up one of the worst man-made crises in this nation’s history.”

In perhaps the most controversial segment of the program, Wayne State University Engineering Professor and Principal Investigator on the scientific panel investigating the Legionnaire’s outbreak, Shawn McElmurry states on camera that Michigan Health Director Nick Lyon was cavalierly dismissive when told the outbreak might claim more Flint lives.

Lyon’s response, according to McElmurry and denied by Lyon’s attorney: “They’ll have to die of something.”

Seven people were charged with felonies by the state’s former attorney general for their alleged roles in the crisis. However, current prosecutors appointed by Attorney General Dana Nessel dismissed those charges without prejudice in early June, which means charges could be revisited against each at any time.

Nessel had dismissed Nathan Flood, a prosecutor assigned to head up the investigation during her predecessor’s administration. Flood, who appears on-camera during the episode, defended his tenure.

 “The depth and breadth of concern for a fair and just prosecution and justice for the people of Flint is precisely why I appointed and entrusted Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy to lead the Flint criminal cases,” Nessel said in a statement released at the time of the dismmissal. “I trust them and if this step is necessary for them to do a comprehensive and complete investigation, I am in absolute support.”

Nessel said that "justice delayed is not always justice denied."

“The Flint water crisis demonstrates a failure of all levels of government,” Jason Hayes, environmental policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told The Center Square.

“The city, state, and federal governments were all responsible for ensuring the safety of the water that was being provided to people in Flint," he added. "Isn’t that the very purpose of the regulatory system we have established? But reports on the issue seem to indicate that regulatory responsibility was ignored, or handed off at each level of government."

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.