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Americas france 24

Obama orders state of emergency over Michigan water contamination

© Bill Pugliano, Getty Images, AFP |Flint residents stand in line for bottled water, water testing kits, and water filters at a local fire station, on January 13, 2016

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-17

US President Barack Obama on Saturday declared a state of emergency for the city of Flint in Michigan after residents fell ill from drinking lead-contaminated tap water.

The emergency order clears the way for Flint to receive up to $5 million (€4.6 million) in direct federal aid. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will also provide residents with water, filters, cartridges and other items for three months.

The tap water in Flint, which has a population of 99,000, became contaminated after the city switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in a bid to cut costs while a pipeline was under construction. The corrosive water from the Flint River lacked adequate treatment and caused lead to leach from old pipes in homes and schools. Residents soon began complaining that the foul, cloudy water was making them vomit, break out in rashes and lose their hair.

Flint returned to the Detroit system in October after elevated lead levels were discovered in children. But officials remain concerned that old pipes could continue to leach lead, to which exposure can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in children as well as kidney ailments in adults.

Federal help

Obama declared that "an emergency exists in the state of Michigan and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts," a White House statement read.

The move was "due to the emergency conditions in the area affected by contaminated water," it said, and is meant to "save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe".

The National Guard has been distributing free water, filters and other supplies during the crisis, and FEMA workers have already been providing logistical and technical support.

The US Justice Department is helping the Environmental Protection Agency investigate the matter, and state Attorney General Bill Schuette has opened his own probe, which could focus on whether environmental laws were broken or if there was official misconduct.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

Date created : 2016-01-17

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