Such questions rarely get clarified: In this morning's New York Times, Monica Davey discusses last week's criminal charges concerning events in Flint. To read her report, click here.
Charges were filed against three public workers. In this passage, she describes the charges which have been lodged against two "state water regulators:"
DAVEY (4/25/16): Charges against Mr. Prysby, 53, and Mr. Busch, 40, include misconduct in office, accusing them of knowingly misleading federal and county officials about whether the water was safe, as well as conspiring to tamper with evidence and tampering with reports on lead.The highlighted passages describe a key failing here. When the city of Flint switched to the Flint River as its (temporary) water supply, it failed to "us[e] chemicals to prevent leaching from the pipes, a process known as corrosion control."
The pair also are charged with failing to require the city of Flint to add chemicals to its new water supply to prevent lead from leaching from service lines, which is standard protocol for dealing with aged water systems; with improperly manipulating water-testing samples by directing residents to “pre-flush” their taps, which would decrease lead levels; and with failing to collect enough samples from homes that were known to have lead service lines.
In February 2015, Mr. Busch told a concerned Environmental Protection Agency official, who was asking about some high lead findings, that Flint was indeed using chemicals to prevent leaching from the pipes, a process known as corrosion control, though the state now acknowledges that no such controls were in place at the time.
According to the basic theory of the case, this failure to use standard "corrosion control" explains the subsequent high levels of lead in the city's water.
According to these criminal charges, Prysby and Busch failed to require the city to employ standard corrosion control when the city's water supply was switched. Later, according to these charges, Busch falsely told the EPA that corrosion control was being used.
By now, everyone seems to agree that this basic breakdown occurred. The failure to employ standard corrosion control led to high levels of lead in the city's water.
This leaves a basic question unanswered. Was anything essentially wrong with the decision to use the Flint River as a temporary water source? If standard corrosion control had been employed, would a problem have arisen?
This is a very basic question about what happened in Flint. As usual, this basic question has typically gone unaddressed in reporting about this matter.
Was anything essentially wrong with the decision to use the Flint River? On the Maddow Show last week, Rachel Maddow and Curt Guyette were trying to determine responsibility for the decision to use the river as Flint's water supply. Parts of Davey's report today turn on the same question.
Who made the decision to use the Flint River? The answer remains unclear. That said, we've never seen anyone ask the more fundamental question:
If corrosion control had been used, would a problem have arisen? Was anything fundamentally wrong with the decision to use the Flint River?
This is a very basic question—but so what? The way our broken discourse works, even the most fundamental questions rarely get identified, let alone answered.
That said, here's our question for Professor Marc Edwards, who actually knows what he's talking about concerning such basic matters:
If standard corrosion control had been used, would a problem have arisen? Was anything essentially wrong with the decision to use the Flint River?
Maddow seems immune to the logic of this question, but that should come as no surprise. Basically, she's been sketching a cartoon about Flint from the day this story started.
Davey also seemed a bit muddled concerning this point in this morning's Times. That said, this is the way our discourse typically works as our journalistic culture keeps sliding into the sea.
Increasingly, this is the way our discourse works: If it weren't for the lack of clarity, we'd have no clarity at all!