Michigan governor: solve Flint water crisis instead of laying blame

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The front of the Flint Water Plant is seen in Flint,

The front of the Flint Water Plant is seen in Flint, Michigan January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

DETROIT (Reuters) - Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said on Friday he wants officials to focus on solving problems around lead-contaminated drinking water in the city of Flint instead of laying blame as he said some have been doing.

"There are a number of folk out there that are spending their time mainly on the political side and the blame side," he said at a meeting in Flint of local and state officials responding to the crisis.

Snyder's comments came a day after liberal group Progress Michigan released emails showing high-ranking state officials knew about an increase in Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County, where Flint is located, and a possible link to the contaminated water almost a year before the governor said he got information about the outbreak.

Snyder, who has repeatedly apologized for the state's poor handling of the crisis, previously said he did not learn of the rise in Legionnaires' cases until last month.

The governor and state officials have been criticized for not catching the contaminated water sooner, with some calling for Snyder to resign.

Later on Friday, Snyder's office said the former head of the state Department of Environmental Quality's Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance unit, Liane Shekter Smith, was fired. She and a second employee were suspended last month, and a state spokesman cited a civil service rule allowing for termination due to failure to do one's job.

A second DEQ employee, environmental manager Stephen Busch, remains on suspension and no decision has been made on his status, state officials said.

Flint, near Detroit, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched the source of its tap water from Detroit's system to the Flint River in April 2014 to save money.

It switched back last October after tests found high levels of lead in samples of children's blood. The more corrosive water from the river leached more lead from the city pipes than Detroit water did. Lead can damage the nervous system.

On Friday, lawmakers on a U.S. House of Representatives panel said they plan to hold a hearing next month to address Flint health and infrastructure issues. The energy and commerce panel did not have details on the date or who would testify.

This week, Congress held its first hearing into the Flint crisis. The House Oversight Committee did not invite Snyder, a Republican, to testify, something Democrats on the panel complained bitterly about.


(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish)