Florida Senator and presidential contender Marco Rubio told reporters Monday night that he has not been “focusing on” the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, which has left tens of thousands of residents without drinkable water and with possibly irreversible damage to their health.
While admitting to not know much about the situation, Rubio did say he believes the federal government should stay out it.
“I’d love to give you a better answer on it,” Rubio said. “It’s just not an issue we’ve been quite frankly fully briefed or apprised of in terms of the role the governor has played and the state has played in Michigan on these sorts of issues.”
Rubio went on to say that he’s unable to give “a deeply detailed answer on what the right approach should be, other than to tell you that in general I believe the federal government’s role in some of these things [is] largely limited unless it involves a federal jurisdictional issue.”
Yet Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) asked the Obama Administration last week to declare a federal emergency and send millions of dollars in aid to buy residents bottled water, water filters, and lead-testing kits. The federal government has approved $5 million in aid so far, and says they will send more if necessary. Snyder, who is now facing a class action lawsuit from Flint residents, had also requested $96 million and the designation of a “major disaster declaration.”
Though other Republican candidates have been silent on the issue, the two leading Democratic candidates brought it up during Sunday night’s debate, framing it as not only a serious health crisis but an question of racial justice.
“I think every single American should be outraged,” Hillary Clinton said on NBC. “We had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways, and majority-African American, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water. And the governor of that state acted as though he didn’t really care. He had requests for help that he basically stonewalled. I’ll tell you what: if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would have been action.”
Clinton is referencing the fact that Snyder had received scientific reports showing high levels of lead contamination as early as September, along with petitions signed by tens of thousands of residents, but did not take action until months later.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ echoed Clinton’s comments, and added that he thinks Gov. Snyder should resign.
The lead contamination, which occurred when the state attempted to sever Flint’s water system from nearby Detroit’s, has made the water in Flint five times more toxic than the Environmental Protection Agency says is cause for concern. Some Flint homes tested had water more than 10 times more contaminated than the EPA limit, and some much higher than, meeting the legal definition of “toxic waste.”
Now, officials fear that some the children in Flint who drank and bathed in this water may have permanent brain damage, among other long-term health problems.