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House Panel To Hold First Hearings Into Flint's Water Crisis


We're tracking developments today on the crisis in Flint, Mich. We now know the FBI is joining the criminal investigation into how Flint's water came to be poisoned. And on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have called for a hearing.


Among those scheduled to testify this morning is Keith Creagh. He just took over Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality, the department that has shouldered much of the blame for the crisis. Creagh told us one of the biggest mistakes was failing to protect Flint's pipes by adding phosphate, which would've kept lead from leaching into people's water.

KEITH CREAGH: Hindsight's 20/20, and corrosion treatment should've been implemented from day one.

KELLY: We asked Creagh, how does he hope to turn things around?

CREAGH: You change a culture by re-emphasizing a need to be good listeners. And so there was the attitude that our data was better than anybody else's data, and we should not have been arguing with data as it came in, and we all should've acted with more urgency.

KELLY: The head of the department, also the spokesman, have resigned. As far as I can tell, no one has been fired. Should someone be?

CREAGH: There is due process, and the Department of Justice is doing an investigation. The Michigan attorney general is doing an investigation. The auditor general is doing an investigation. We have internal individuals doing investigations. So let's get it right. It's very easy to just pick out one individual and say, you're at fault. I think it's more genuine to look at a system to make sure this never happens again.

KELLY: We spoke recently on NPR with a woman in Flint, a woman named Shea Cobb (ph). She told us she has stopped cooking for her kids because she can't use the water and that she doesn't believe anything government officials tell her anymore. What do you say to Ms. Cobb and other Flint residents? Can they trust that their officials are fixing this?

CREAGH: First, what I would say is I'm sorry. It was a fundamental failure of government. Second is the only way we're going to build trust is one action at a time. We've broken that trust, and we need to be rebuild that trust.

KELLY: If Ms. Shea accepts that apology, I wonder what concrete you can tell her is coming in the days and weeks ahead.

CREAGH: So what I would say is that any plan will be thoroughly vetted between the city, the state, the federal government and external experts. We have residential tests. We're correlating data between water and blood levels. There are 13 schools, we're replacing the fixtures there and then doing flushing and in-depth testing, and then we'll set up some sentinel sites on lead service lines and look at those over time.

KELLY: Before I let you go, Mr. Creagh, let me ask you about timing. Gov. Snyder has said he hopes people in Flint will have safe drinking water in the next two to three months. What do you think? Is that possible in the next two to three months?

CREAGH: I think that we will have more information then. I think we will find some hot spots where we may have to replace some pipes. We'll find some spots where pipes will be recoded. So in four to six weeks, based upon normal water flow, the phosphate should be putting down a protective covering.

KELLY: Keith Creagh, thank you so much for taking the time.

CREAGH: Thank you very much for the opportunity, Mary Louise, always good talking to you.

KELLY: That's Keith Creagh. He's interim director of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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