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Uproar Grows Louder Over Lead Contamination Of Flint's Water


The uproar over lead contamination in the water in Flint, Mich., got louder yesterday with sharp words from President Obama on the state's handling of the crisis. The president met with Flint's mayor and promised continued support for the city during the crisis. This was a day after Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder apologized to the people of Flint. But in an interview airing this weekend on CBS, Obama complained that residents of Flint, who are mostly black, were not immediately told of the danger in their water. Joining us is Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio, who's been following the political turns in this story. Good morning.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And where has Flint's mayor been during all of this time? And I'm not speaking here of Karen Weaver, really.

PLUTA: Although, well, Flint has a new mayor, Karen Weaver. The former mayor, Dayne Walling, was swept out of office amid voter anger over this water crisis. You just referred to Gov. Snyder's state of the state address. Karen Weaver actually skipped that, even though it was largely devoted to Flint. She was in Washington for a meeting of the national conference of mayors. She met with the president, Michigan's congressional delegation. And in a public forum, she asked if this would've happened if Flint wasn't a community that was poor and wasn't a community that's mostly African-American. And it's worth pointing out that now, Gov. Snyder says he wants to take a lot of the authority that was seized by the state in Flint and actually transfer it back to the Flint mayor.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's interesting. And also though, Gov. Snyder released emails related to the Flint water crisis. Why did he do that?

PLUTA: The governor says he wants people to have a sense of what he knew and when he knew about the water crisis. Remember, this started when Flint was under the control of a series of state-appointed emergency managers. And so he is hoping that by releasing 274 pages of electronic messages between him and his advisers related to Flint that, you know, this can help explain what's going on.

MONTAGNE: And what then did we learn from these emails that the governor released?

PLUTA: That Rick Snyder was informed in late September, there might be a problem. That was 17, 18 months after the first complaints from Flint. But, Snyder's aid seemed to think that it wasn't the state's job to do something about it, that it was serious but that the responsibility rested with Flint officials even though, under local emergency management, the state treasurer had to sign off on the drinking water switch that caused the problem in the first place. Also these same aides to the governor kind of dismissed the early complaints about lead contamination. His chief of staff said they were coming from the, quote, "against everyone crowd." And they were concerned that critics were using the lead issue as a political football.

MONTAGNE: That's Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio. Thanks very much.

PLUTA: You bet, Renee, a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.