According to emails obtained by advocacy group Progress Michigan, state officials were warned about a potential link between an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease and the Flint metro area's contaminated water supply almost a year before Gov. Rick Snyder's public statements.
Snyder disclosed the spike in Legionnaires' cases on Jan. 13, 2016, saying he had learned about it just days earlier. This came after an initial wave of more than 40 cases was known by early 2015.
But emails obtained by PM through public records requests show that a principal adviser to Snyder was aware of an uptick in the disease in Genesee County as early as March 2015, and a county health official said the increase was almost certainly linked to the area switching its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River.
"The increase of the illnesses closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to the Flint River water,"Jim Henry, Genesee County's environmental health supervisor, wrote March 10 to Flint leaders, the city's state-appointed emergency financial manager and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). "The majority of the cases reside or have an association with the city."
In a follow-up email sent by Henry on March 13 that was forward by the DEQ to a Snyder aide, the health supervisor wrote: "This situation has been explicitly explained to MDEQ and many of the city's officials. I want to make sure in writing that there are no misunderstandings regarding this significant and urgent public health issue."
It's not clear if Snyder himself was told of the apparent connection, since the governor's office is exempt from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.
Legionnaires' disease is form of pneumonia caused by bacteria inhaled from contaminated water systems, hot tubs, or cooling systems.
The Associated Press reports there were at least 87 cases of the disease across Genesee County, which surrounds Flint, during a 17-month period, resulting in at least nine deaths.
The AP obtained separate emails showing the outbreak was "well known within state agencies" adding further proof to the contention that some state officials were dismissive of county health authorities who raised concerns about the safety of the community's drinking water.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.