How Not to Craft a Lead Poisoning Water Advisory

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Some Flint, Michigan residents were upset by a jokey state poster telling them their water is fit for washing.

Having declared a state of emergency Tuesday for Genesee County, after being criticized for a slow response to lead in Flint, Michigan’s water, Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration should be avoiding missteps.

Instead, Michigan AFL-CIO Communications Director Zack Pohl called Snyder out Friday on Twitter for an insensitive state Department of Health & Human Services poster informing Flint residents their water is still safe for bathing.

The laughable line “Just don’t let kids drink the bath water when they play in the tub...yuck!” along with a backdrop that could be a Johnson’s ad, doesn’t exactly exude empathy for Flint’s understandably distraught residents.

A story of failed infrastructure, the water supply became poisoned with nearly 900 times the recommended EPA limit for lead particles when a governor-appointed emergency manager had the city begin drawing water from the Flint River in April 2014 to cut costs. The brackish water corroded Flint’s old lead pipes, and soon residents were exhibiting rashes, falling ill and faced with the possibility of irreversible brain damage.

While the state is now helping provide the cash-strapped city with dwindling alternate water and filters, Snyder has dodged questions about how long he has known about the crisis. Some residents believe officials knew within a month of the switch to Flint River water, despite their insistence there wasn’t a threat as late as February 2015—even after samples were tested.

“That was an older graphic,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray told the Detroit Free Press in a Saturday email regarding the poster. “The state, working with its local partners, is updating all of its materials relating to Flint water.”

The poster was removed from Michigan.gov/flintwater and replaced with an informative FAQs PDF, as well as an advisory—sans the patronizing tone.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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