Michigan gave state employees bottled water while downplaying Flint residents' concerns

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A key question in the Flint water crisis has been exactly what state officials knew when. Despite protests over water quality issues as early as 2014 and worrying research results last year, Gov. Rick Snyder has maintained that he was only told about unhealthy lead levels in the city's water system a few months ago.

Now, a new piece of evidence suggests that at least some state employees—those working in Flint—had concerns about the water months earlier. Bottled water coolers were brought to the state office building in Flint in January 2015, according to an email obtained by the liberal group Progress Michigan.

The email, first reported by the Detroit Metro Times, shows that officials at the state Department of Technology, Management & Budget told employees working in Flint that it was installing the water coolers "so you can choose which water to drink." The coolers would be provided “as long as the public water does not meet treatment requirements,” the memo read.


It's not clear how long the water coolers were made available—in other words, how long state employees drank bottled water while Flint residents drank lead-contaminated tap water. But the document shows that at the same time that some state officials were telling Flint locals that their water was safe to drink, others were arranging for bottled water for state employees.


“While residents were being told to relax and not worry about the water, the Snyder administration was taking steps to limit exposure in its own building,” Lonnie Scott, the executive director of Progress Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press.

A spokesperson for the DTMB was not available for comment; we'll update if we hear back.


Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.