Officials met behind closed doors in Chicago on Tuesday to determine if Flint, Mich.’s water technically meets federal standards again.
The meeting, which took place at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional headquarters in Chicago, was touted as an opportunity for officials to share testing data on the safety of city drinking water after its long battle with contamination issues, but as the Detroit News reports, the decision to work out of the public eye drew strong criticism.
Tuesday’s meeting, which was closed to the public and the press, was attended by representatives from the city of Flint, the EPA, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and Virginia Tech researchers who have helped document the water-contamination issues in Flint. As the Detroit News notes, many of those same officials will be at a town hall meeting in Flint on Wednesday to discuss the latest findings with the public. That meeting has been limited to just 300 residents out of the 99,000 living in Flint.
Melissa Mays is a Flint resident who has worked to compel state and federal regulators to deal with the city’s problems. She traveled to Chicago this week to make her opposition to the closed-door meeting known.
In a phone call from EPA headquarters, Mays told the Detroit News: “This isn’t right. All the meetings and decisions that were made behind closed doors, that’s how we got poisoned in the first place, by not including Flint residents in any of the decisions.
“Flint residents should at least have had the option to view a live stream of the meeting,” Mays added. “It’s our future.”
Henry Henderson, Midwest program director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, echoed Mays’ concerns.
“There is no valid reason to shut out the public from this meeting,” Henderson told the Detroit News. “We’re concerned that the choice to keep these conversations behind closed doors works simply to reinforce the distrust between the community and the government. The Flint water crisis is not over until the community trusts their water is safe, and a lack of transparency makes that harder.”
Flint’s water problems began in 2014 when, in an effort to save money, the city began drawing drinking water from the local river; improperly treated river water damaged the city’s pipes.
As Michigan Radio reports, recent tests by the state and independent researchers suggest that there's been an improvement in water quality since the switch back to Detroit as a water source more than a year ago, but critics say it’s too soon to declare tap water in the city safe for drinking.
Michael Steinberg, with the American Civil Liberties Union, told Michigan Radio that more testing is needed, and any declaration by the state or “at the town hall meeting that the water is in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act … is not only wrong … it’s irresponsible.”
The Rev. Rigel Dawson, who leads Flint's North Central Church of Christ, told Michigan Radio that it’s too soon to make any definitive statements about whether Flint water is once again “safe” to drink.
“We cannot issue a blanket statement and say everything’s fine,” Dawson said, “because too many factors change from month to month.”