Michigan’s Flint water crisis has come to a head. The director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Nick Lyon, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office, which are both felonies in Michigan.
Eden Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive, will likewise be charged with obstruction of justice, NPR reports. Four more officials, including the former emergency manager and former director of public works in Flint, were slapped with manslaughter charges, as well.
Lyon is the highest-ranking state official to be criminally charged in the Flint water crisis, after an investigation led by Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette.
At a press conference, Schuette said,
Mr. Lyon failed in his responsibilities to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Flint.
He added, “The families of Flint have experienced a tragic, tragic health and safety crisis for the past three years.”
The charges of involuntary manslaughter follow an outbreak of the highly dangerous Legionnaire’s disease that spread in the city of Flint after a switch in water sourced. Legionnaire’s is a type of pneumonia that, if left untreated, can cause death.
The indictment states that Lyon was aware of the outbreak, but failed to warn the public. The disease killed 12 residents and affected over 70 more in 2014 and 2015.
The city’s water quality gained national attention after lead leaked into Flint’s pipes. Officials had switched its water source to the Flint River, and failed to treat the problem immediately. According to reports, complaints that the water was discolored and smelled badly were ignored.
Residents then had to turn to bottled water, or keep using the contaminated water.
At the time of the crisis, Flint was being run by state-appointed emergency managers. Because of this, state officials were therefore responsible for the city’s health and safety. However, state officials have argued that since the outbreak only happened in one county, the culpability was on the county health department.
Schuette began an investigation in January 2016, probing into “what, if any, Michigan laws were violated in the process that resulted in the contamination crisis currently forcing Flint residents to rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing as they fear for their health.”
Over a dozen former state and city officials have been criminally charged as a result of the crisis.