DETROIT —The state House of Representatives upped the ante on helping Flint pay for solving its water crisis, approving $9.35 million for the beleaguered city.
Gov. Rick Snyder had asked the Legislature to approve $6 million to help Flint reconnect to the Detroit Water system. The House unanimously approved the $6 million and added $3.35 million more for testing of children, water filters for city residents, lab services and a boost in the Department of Environmental Quality's environmental health program.
The C.S. Mott Foundation, a Flint-based nonprofit founded by auto pioneer Charles Stewart Mott, has pledged another $4 million, and the city of Flint will provide the additional $2 million from its water and sewer fund.
"People argue that city of Flint shouldn't pick up any of the tab on it right now and it wasn't the city of Flint that got us into the issue," said Democratic state Rep. Phil Phelps. "But right now the Legislature has moved so fast on this and I'm so appreciative that they took this up so quick."
Republican state Rep. Al Pscholka said the swift approval was a welcome sign of statesmanship in the House.
"This is a public health emergency in Flint," he said. "Folks reacted the right way and didn't play a lot of politics with this. We were more interested in finding a solution than playing political games and that was really good to see."
The legislative action came following a report earlier this month showing that the number of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels — 5 micrograms per deciliter or more — jumped from 2.1% in the 20 months prior to Sept. 15, 2013, to 4.0% between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15 this year. In certain ZIP codes, the change was more drastic, jumping from 2.5% of the children tested to 6.3%.
The analysis was by Hurley Medical Center pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha.
State officials also said last week that three schools also tested positive for elevated lead levels, including one elementary school where a sample showed a lead level of 101 parts per billion, almost seven times the level that requires remediation.
Flint has been battling problems with its municipal drinking water system for more than a year after disconnecting from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in an attempt to save about $1.5 million a month. The city has joined Genesee County in building a new pipeline from Lake Huron as part of the Karegnondi Water Authority, but that project isn't expected to come online until next year.
In the meantime, the city has been drawing water from the Flint River and treating it at its own plant. The river water was tested when it left the city's treatment plant and was fine, Snyder said. The problem developed in the distribution system.
Experts believe the chemical composition of the water caused corrosion in pipes and plumbing fixtures that contained lead, letting contaminated water come out of faucets in homes and businesses across Flint.
Snyder has defended the city's decision to switch to the river water last year — a move that included a sign-off from state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Earley, now emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools.
The Senate is expected to vote on the supplemental appropriation for Flint on Thursday.
"It’s a public health issue and we need to solve it," said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof.
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