The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now officially involved in the ongoing investigations into the Flint, Michigan water crisis, according to Reuters on Tuesday.
The FBI stated that they are entering into the investigation, which currently involves an alliance of federal prosecutors in the state of Michigan alongside the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General, and the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, in order to determine whether or not any federal laws were broken after a decision by a state official to switch the city’s tap water source to the lead contaminated Flint River in 2014.
The decision was a disaster, which led to the poisoning of many of the city’s residents. Among the most unfortunate victims of the public health crisis were children, many of whom now have lasting damages as a result of drinking the lead contaminated water for months, unaware of the danger it posed.
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s field office in Detroit stated the following to The Detroit News:
We’ve been investigating it for awhile. Our role in it is just investigating the matter to determine if there are any federal violations.
The ability to determine whether or not any criminal charges are viable, however, seems challenging under current US environmental laws. Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University, told Reuters that the only way would be to find an instance where a public official knowingly issued a false statement on the matter to those involved. In other words, as Henning states:
You need a lie. You need something that is false to build a case. Simply failing to recognize the seriousness of the situation would not rise to that level.
Henning’s statement indicates that the focus of the ongoing investigations are likely to involve mining official records, indicating whether or not anybody had knowingly issued a false statement to a source crucial in the handling of Flint’s water. It is already known that federal and Michigan officials did not alert the residents of Flint about the lead contamination for months.
The first congressional hearing on the crisis is also scheduled on Wednesday by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Keith Creagh, the state’s chief environmental director at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), was invited to speak at the hearing. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R), who was not invited to the hearing, believes that the DEQ “failed to ensure corrosion controls were added to the Flint River water when the city switched from the Detroit water system in April 2014”.