Internal emails show that high-ranking officials in Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's administration were aware of a surge in Legionnaires' disease potentially linked to Flint's water long before the governor reported the increase to the public.
When he disclosed the spike in January, Snyder said he had learned about it just a couple of days earlier. But emails obtained by the liberal group Progress Michigan through public-records requests and shared with The Associated Press show Snyder's own office was aware of the outbreak since last March.
The outbreak was also well known within state agencies, according to emails obtained separately by the AP and other news organizations.
A spokesman said Snyder never knew about the outbreak despite an aide knowing 10 months earlier.
"The emails from the Department of Environmental Quality claim the information is 'premature and prejudice' and that attributing it to the river is 'beyond irresponsible,'" said the governor's spokesman.
Now Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is defending how his office responded to the email.
The Republican governor told The Associated Press Friday that an aide, Harvey Hollins, asked the Department of Environmental Quality to look into a local official's concerns further. He says the DEQ was skeptical of any link last March and "didn't bring it forward" again.
Snyder says one reason he changed the agency's leadership is because he "wasn't getting the information that I should have."
Additional emails released by Snyder's administration on Feb. 12 show the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality suspected a link between Flint's water and the disease in 2015.
On March 17, 2015 Stephen Busch, with Michigan's DEQ, sent a letter to flint officials that said, "There is currently no direct evidence of legionella in the City's public water system. However, actions by the City of Flint water system can help minimize the potential for an outbreak in customer plumbing systems."
On May 1, 2015, Busch sent an email to another member of the DEQ that said, "Almost every service connection could potentially have some element associated with what is listed in this questionnaire."
The questionnaire was regarding Legionnaires' disease. The questionnaire can be found on page 35 of this document.
Busch has since been reassigned to a different position.
See the emails Progress Michigan obtained below.
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