Congress holding hearings on Flint River water crisis

Start building a new home on a tract of marshy land, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be on your back promptly with orders to cease and desist and hefty fines intended to show you who’s boss.

But threaten an entire city with health problems that may persist for decades and, well, the EPA may not be interested.

What happened in Flint, Mich., clearly was a failure of government at all levels. Municipal, state and federal authorities failed in their role of safeguarding the people.

About two years ago, Flint officials began drawing water for the municipality from the Flint River. They had been obtaining it from nearby Detroit, but using the river water was cheaper.

Water from the river was treated improperly, however. That caused lead from the city’s water pipes to leach into water used by Flint’s nearly 100,000 residents. The practice has been corrected, but that did not occur until elevated levels of lead were detected in the blood of many Flint children.

Congress is holding hearings on the situation this week. Testimony and documents provided to lawmakers make it clear EPA officials failed badly.

An EPA scientist warned about the danger last summer. In a June 2015 memo, Miguel Del Toral cited dangerously high levels of lead in the Flint water. His superiors ignored him for months.

On Sept. 22, Toral sent a message to superiors in which he accused them of a “delay and denial” attitude toward Flint. “At every stage of the process, it seems that we spend more time trying to maintain state/local relationships than we do trying to protect the children,” he added.

Again, there is plenty of blame to go around in Flint. But clearly, EPA officials ignored their own scientist’s warnings about the problem.

Clearly, they need to get their priorities in order. They have been so busy enforcing rules on imagined or potential problems that when an imminent, real threat to children surfaces, the EPA is asleep at the switch.