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The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final report concluding that the circumstances and response to contamination in the city of Flint, Michigan’s community water system involved implementation and oversight lapses at federal, state and local levels.
The report makes nine recommendations geared toward strengthening EPA’s oversight of safe drinking water programs and revising the Lead and Copper Rule to improve the effectiveness of monitoring requirements.
After Flint switched its drinking water supply in April 2014, inadequate water treatment exposed many Flint residents to lead.
The OIG conducted an audit to examine the circumstances of and the EPA’s response to the contamination, including the federal agency’s exercise of its oversight authority. In the course of its review, the OIG issued an earlier, interim report that found the EPA had the authority and sufficient information to issue an emergency order to protect Flint residents seven months before issuing such an order.
In this final report, the OIG finds that, under the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s supervision, the Flint water system did not adhere to two Lead and Copper Rule requirements:
The state agency’s decision to delay corrosion control treatment prolonged residents’ exposure to lead.
The OIG further finds that the EPA, which retains oversight and enforcement authorities to provide assurance that states with primacy comply with Safe Drinking Water Act requirements, did not implement management controls that could have facilitated more informed and proactive decision-making. The federal response was delayed, in part, because the EPA did not establish clear roles and responsibilities, risk assessment procedures, effective communication and proactive oversight tools.
“While oversight authority is vital, its absence can contribute to a catastrophic situation,” said EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins. “This report urges the EPA to strengthen its oversight of state drinking water programs now so that the agency can act quickly in times of emergency.”
Eight of the OIG’s recommendations are resolved pending completion of corrective actions by the EPA. The ninth is unresolved.
The OIG’s final and interim audit reports, related podcasts, videos and a photo gallery are available at https://go.usa.gov/xUNSF.