The EPA Report on Flint Water

The story of the Flint water system, and how governmental action (and later inaction) created infrastructure that poisoned the residents of Flint by the supply of tainted water, has not only impacted the residents but has left a wide trail of recrimination, finger pointing, and now indictments. The Michigan “Emergency Manager” law is under siege as a consequence of key decisions being made by Emergency Managers in Flint appointed by the Governor. The history and the effectiveness of that law requires another post. For today we have the release of the EPA report on the Flint water situation. While the EPA report does deal with some technical data it is instructive in how the relationship between the State and the EPA worked, and is working today, and the failures of management at the EPA level that allowed state and local malfeasance to continue until it was too late for the residents of Flint.

Before you can even get to “what happened,” determining who was in charge, and who had the statutory authority to act, is vital. Although ultimately governed by federal law the EPA has granted most states “primacy” in enforcement, meaning that the State handles enforcement of the (Safe Drinking Water Act) federal law after a finding by the EPA that the state is equipped to do so. Michigan was operating under “primacy” in this instance. From the report:

The SDWA, 42 U.S.C. § 300f et seq., is the federal law that protects public drinking water supplies throughout the nation. The law assigns the EPA Administrator the ultimate authority to protect public health by setting and enforcing drinking water quality standards. However, the SDWA allows the EPA to grant states the authority to implement and enforce SDWA regulations in an arrangement referred to as “primacy.” To receive EPA approval for primacy, states must demonstrate that they have adopted regulations that are at least as stringent as national requirements, are implementing adequate procedures for the enforcement of these regulations, and will keep records and make reports as the EPA may require. The EPA has granted nearly all states—including Michigan—primacy to implement the SDWA. When states are granted primacy, the EPA retains the responsibility for overseeing state implementation and federal enforcement authority. In 1978, the EPA determined that Michigan met all SDWA requirements to be granted primacy, including adopting and implementing enforcement procedures.

The “primacy” of Michigan did not take away ultimate oversight authority from the EPA, but it certainly put Michigan in the position of initial oversight of the transactions that created the problem in Flint. When Flint determined that they were going to change their source of water from the Detroit water system to the Flint River the MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the primacy agency) did not require Flint to add anti-corrosion chemicals, a fatal error. But beyond being an error was it also a violation under the LCR component (Lead & Copper Rule) of the SDWA that Michigan, under primacy, was charged with enforcing? This EPA report claims that it was, but seems to acknowledge some degree of gray in the “interpretation” of the LCR by the MDEQ.

Under the MDEQ’s supervision, the Flint water system did not adhere to two Lead and Copper Rule requirements: (1) develop and maintain an inventory of lead service lines needed for sampling, and (2) maintain corrosion control treatment after the water source switch in April 2014. The rule requires utilities to minimize consumers’ exposure to lead in drinking water. As the primacy agency, the MDEQ is responsible for enforcing this rule for Michigan water systems. The MDEQ did not issue a notice of violation or take other formal enforcement action regarding either requirement until August 2015. Instead, the MDEQ advised Flint public water system staff to conduct additional tests and to delay corrosion control treatment installation. The decision to delay corrosion control treatment prolonged residents’ exposure to lead.

Once the decision was made to “test” rather than ordering the anti-corrosion treatments after the switch in water supply the Flint water infrastructure was permanently damaged. As the extent of the problem began apparent the reaction of the MDEQ, the EPA, and of the Flint local authorities was slow and ineffective. Flint made a determination to switch back to the Detroit water system (renamed the Great Lakes Water Authority) which had anti-corrosion treatment in the system. They additionally added anti-corrosion treatment of their own, but the damage to the system was done, and lead levels in the water did not drop below federally acceptable levels.

In October 2015, instead of installing corrosion control treatment, Flint’s water system returned to purchasing drinking water from the Great Lakes Water Authority (formerly called the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department), which already included corrosion control treatment. At the time of this change, almost a year-and-a-half of exposure to improperly treated water had damaged the city’s drinking water infrastructure, and lead concentrations continued to rise. In December 2015, the MDEQ reported that Flint began supplementing Detroit water with additional corrosion control treatment. However, due to the damage done to the Flint distribution system, the lead levels in drinking water did not fall below the federal action level until late 2016.

The EPA report deals with the interaction between the State of Michigan and the EPA, and is without question vitally important in understanding the management and systemic failures that brought catastrophe to the residents of Flint. There is a lot more to the story, including the interaction between the local government and the MDEQ, and the role of the Emergency Managers who were running the City of Flint under the authority granted by the Michigan State Legislature (Public Act 436 passed in 2012.) Two of those Emergency Managers were indicted, as well as two local officials connected to the delivery of water to the residents of Flint. Public Act 436 has had much written about it, but for the purposes of this post I will leave that discussion for another day. The Anna Clark book “The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy” will be reviewed here soon, with Public Act 436 left to that post.

The below report highlights the management failures on the part of the EPA. It is evident to me that the MDEQ “primacy” in enforcing the SDWA led to laxity on the part of the EPA in looking at the critical early actions of the MDEQ when Flint made the water system change over. The communication between the EPA and the MDEQ was lax, as the EPA acknowledged in the report overview. From my perspective the lack of clarity in the language of the LCR led the MDEQ to make the wrong call on the legal requirement that the new source of drinking water for Flint contain anti-corrosion treatment. While the EPA cited that error, and stated clearly that the MDEQ should have ordered that treatment under the LCR, the damage was done. Where was the initial EPA review of that fateful decision? Why did the language of the LCR leave any doubt as to the correct course of action for the MDEQ, and the City of Flint, as to whether the switch in water systems required the addition of anti-corrosion treatment? The report highlights the dispute between the EPA Office and the MDEQ on the legal requirements of the LCR on this question, which highlights to me the obvious language difficulties in the LCR. Spending time seeking legal clarity on the intent of the language in a situation where the requirement should be clear points to the need for some adjustment to the LCR language.

Region 5 stated that the length of time that it took to obtain a legal interpretation delayed formal intervention. In a July 2015 meeting, the EPA and the MDEQ disagreed over interpretations of LCR corrosion control treatment requirements in Flint. The MDEQ requested, and Region 5 program staff agreed to obtain, a legal opinion from EPA headquarters. In August 2015, Region 5 and EPA headquarters began discussing Flint compliance with the requirements and the MDEQ’s interpretation of those requirements.
However, headquarters personnel stated that Region 5’s characterization of the situation lacked a sense of urgency. Region 5 did not make an official request for a headquarters’ opinion until September 30, 2015. Region 5 did not receive a legal opinion, but the region’s request ultimately resulted in a November 2015 Office of Water memo clarifying the LCR corrosion control treatment requirements for all large water systems.

The failure of communication, mentioned above, is highlighted by the below excerpt, again centered on the disagreement on whether the LCR required the addition of corrosion control after the system change by Flint. From my perspective it is a failure of both the EPA and the MDEQ, but if the MDEQ was making the wrong call it was incumbent on the EPA to order the MDEQ to add the corrosion control. It is amazing to me, from a management perspective, that such an issue was not vetted as Flint looked to make the water system change.It should have been on a punch list that was evaluated by the MDEQ, and reviewed by the EPA, with the final determination made before any change was approved. The weakness of the EPA field office is shown clearly by the below.

Region 5 told us that communication with the MDEQ was frequent, consistent and clear, but the MDEQ failed to take appropriate actions when Region 5 consistently identified problems. According to EPA Region 5 managers, in April 2015, the EPA voiced concerns about the lack of corrosion control treatment to the MDEQ’s Water Director. Region 5 managers said that in June 2015 they advised the MDEQ that the LCR required Flint to maintain consistent corrosion control treatment. However, an MDEQ manager stated that Region 5 did not advise them to initiate corrosion control at that point.

The report does not attempt to hide the federal deficiencies.The EPA Inspector General brought forward the summary of management failures exhibited by EPA Region 5, and discussed each one in detail.

The EPA retains oversight and enforcement authorities to provide assurance that primacy states comply with the SDWA. However, timely oversight interventions rely on effective management systems that govern how and when the agency should intervene. EPA Region 5 did not manage its drinking water oversight program in a way that facilitated effective oversight and timely intervention in Flint. EPA Region 5 did not:
• Establish clear roles and responsibilities with the MDEQ.
• Communicate clearly and effectively.
• Use effective risk assessment protocols.
• Proactively use available SDWA authorities and oversight tools to intervene in Michigan’s drinking water program.
These weaknesses limited Region 5’s ability to monitor, adapt and respond to changing situations in Michigan and the city of Flint.

The failures of the EPA in this case need to be remedied so that future calamities are avoided. There is no substitute for strong management, even where areas of responsibility may not be clearly delineated.Sometimes that strong management requires the placing of inter-agency collegiality on a lesser scale of importance. Although not covered in this report the question of whether Michigan should have “primacy” revoked so that the “roles and responsibilities” issue is resolved in favor of full EPA regulatory authority was not mentioned, although it probably should have been. The human costs of these mistakes have been severe. Hopefully the lessons learned will help avoid these costly management mistakes in the future.

EPA IG Flint Report July 2018

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Seabrook Police Officer Jim Deshaies Retires

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen, at their meeting of September 17, 2018, recognized and thanked Police Officer Jim Deshaies for his many years of service upon his retirement. Officer Deshaies spent many years as the School Resource Officer, and earned the respect and affection of the students he served. The Board of Selectmen offered their best wishes for a well deserved retirement for Officer Jim Deshaies.

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Seabrook Police Press Release Swimmers Pulled From Ocean Seabrook Beach


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Seabrook Police Department

Swimmers Pulled From Ocean at Seabrook Beach

At approximately 12:25 PM on Sunday August 19, 2018 the Seabrook Police Department responded to the area of 131 Ocean Drive for a report of multiple swimmers struggling in the water off Seabrook Beach. The Seabrook Fire Department responded and the Hampton Fire Department and Hampton Beach lifeguards responded with a rescue boat and jet skis.

Seabrook Officers John Giarrusso and Zach Bunszell were the first on scene. Officer Giarrusso shed his duty gear and entered the water assisting several of the parties to shore before returning to the water on a surfboard to search for the last party unaccounted for. Sergeant Dave Buccheri, K9 Officer Dave Hersey, Acting Chief of Police Brett Walker, and Lieutenant Jason Allen arrived shortly thereafter.

A female party pulled from the water was transported to the Seabrook Emergency Room.

The last male party was pulled from the water at 12:59 PM by a Hampton Beach lifeguard and transported to Anna Jaques Hospital.

A total of seven parties were pulled from the water including the six original swimmers in distress and one good Samaritan who aided in the rescues.

Seabrook Acting Chief of Police Brett Walker stated, “The quick and selfless actions of the police officers, firefighters, and lifeguards was essential in removing all parties from the rough waters today. The interagency teamwork was exemplary given the circumstances. Our officers on scene, along with the Seabrook and Hampton Fire Departments and lifeguards, quickly and efficiently coordinated both a targeted search and rescue area for those in the water as well as land-based evacuation for those requiring transport.”

CodeRed alerts as well as posts on the Seabrook Police Department Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts advised of the dangerous currents and to avoid swimming off of Seabrook Beach following the incident.

The names of those involved are not being released at this time and the conditions of those transported is not available. Anyone with information regarding this accident is asked to contact Officer Zach Bunszell at 603-474-5200. This incident remains under investigation.

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The Seabrook Draft Hazard Mitigation Plan

The Seabrook Draft Hazard Mitigation Plan is posted here for review and comment. This plan was developed with a grant from New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and in conjunction with the Rockingham Planning Commission.


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A look at “The New Geography of Jobs” by Enrico Moretti

The New Geography of JobsThe New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The “New Geography of Jobs” by Enrico Moretti is a book well worth reading despite the fact that it is a few years old. Moretti tackles issues of the economic divisions that exist in the country, how they developed, and why the trend is likely to continue under current conditions. Moretti describes the geographic clusters that have produced great jobs for the highly educated, while leaving some areas of the country (flyover country?) behind. How did these clusters come into being, and why are they not easily replicated? Moretti tackles those subjects with great and understandable analysis.

The implications of these economic developments in the United States have exploded onto the political scene, with the economic divisions Moretti highlights becoming the cultural and political divisions that have divided the country so seriously. Moretti refers to the “Great Divergence” and sees the trend-line of economic inequality increasing.

“This Great Divergence is among the most significant developments in recent American economic history. As communities grow apart, the U.S. population is becoming more and more segregated, not across urban neighborhoods but across cities and regions. With every passing year, college graduates are increasingly settling in cities where many other college graduates already reside, while high school graduates are increasingly settling in cities where many other high school graduates reside.”

Moretti, Enrico. The New Geography of Jobs (p. 102). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

That dichotomy really has had a broad (and negative) impact, which we are seeing the tangible results of. The geographic divisions have indeed, in my view, deepened and hardened our cultural differences.

“This has tremendous economic implications, but also social and political ones. A country that is made up of regions that differ drastically from one another will end up culturally and politically balkanized. Moreover, the concentration of large numbers of poorly educated individuals in certain communities will magnify and exacerbate all other socioeconomic differences.”

Moretti, Enrico. The New Geography of Jobs (p. 104). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Moretti certainly has that right. He talks about the economics driving the “great divergence,” and how those economics work. We often talk about how the supply chain influences business decisions on where to locate. Moretti highlights the “human supply chain,” showing us how the innovation sector, relying on “human capital,” has tended to concentrate geographically. 

“This trend reflects deep changes in the global technological landscape and the United States’ comparative advantage in the world economy and is therefore unlikely to go away anytime soon. It is almost as if, starting in the 1980s, the American economy bifurcated. On one side, cities with little human capital and traditional economies started experiencing diminishing returns and stiff competition from abroad. On the other, cities rich in human capital and economies based on knowledge-intensive sectors started seeing increasing returns and took full advantage of globalized markets.”

Moretti, Enrico. The New Geography of Jobs (p. 106). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

As the traditional U.S. business hubs have faltered(manufacturing, steel production, auto production) these innovation hubs have driven economic growth, and contributed to this great divergence. Those hubs are concentrated geographically, and Moretti brings us the dynamics of why that is. Some of the facts brought forward are counter-intuitive, but upon examination make good sense. (Outsourcing traditional jobs from U.S. does not impact some “innovation hubs,” who continue to provide logistical support to the offshore enterprises, as well as non-innovative job classifications doing substantially better within the confines of an innovation hub than outside of it)

Moretti has written a book that is understandable to non-economists, without technical jargon. In discussing how these innovation hubs develop geographically Moretti gives us the example of Wal-Mart.

“But when Walmart set out to enter e-commerce twelve years ago, it did not choose to locate its Internet division,, in Bentonville. Nor did it choose Bangalore, where costs are even lower. Instead it chose Brisbane, California, just 7 miles from downtown San Francisco, one of the most expensive labor markets in the world. (It also happens to be an area that is politically hostile to Walmart, which makes it hard for the company to open many local stores.) What sense does this make, given how aggressive Walmart is in keeping the costs of every division under control? Has Walmart betrayed its own business model? No. As it turns out, in the world of innovation, productivity and creativity can outweigh labor and real estate costs. Walmart saw three important competitive advantages to a San Francisco location, which economists refer to collectively as the forces of agglomeration: thick labor markets (that is, places where there is a good choice of skilled workers trained in a specific field), the presence of specialized service providers, and, most important, knowledge spillovers. Although not much discussed, these forces ultimately determine the location of innovative workers and companies and therefore shape the future of entire communities.”

Moretti, Enrico. New Geography of Jobs (pp. 123-124). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

As discussed this book gives us some of the underlying economics, and the impacts of those economics. The economic divide is becoming starker, with the highly educated widening the economic gap between themselves and those without higher levels of education.

“But whatever Americans’ self-perception is, differences in income levels are growing. As we have seen throughout this book, this increase has a strong geographical component. But it is also skill-based. Table 4 shows how the hourly wage of full-time male workers has changed since 1980 depending on their level of schooling. The wages of men with less than a high school education and of those with just a high school education today are lower than they were in 1980. By contrast, the wages of college graduates have increased significantly. The gain is even larger for workers with a master’s degree or a PhD. The “college premium”—the wage gap between those with high school and college educations—is the measure that labor economists most commonly use to track changes in labor market inequality, because it best captures the difference between the typical skilled worker and the typical unskilled worker. This premium was relatively small in 1980—only 31 percent—but has been growing every year since then and is now more than double its 1980 level. This difference is even higher when you account for other aspects of compensation, as college graduates tend to have better employer-paid health insurance and more generous pension contributions.”

Moretti, Enrico. The New Geography of Jobs (pp. 222-223). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

As we feel the impacts of political polarization and the vast cultural divide in America and wonder how we came to be in this position this book helps shed important light on the subject. Moretti has written an outstanding book which I recommend highly.

View all my reviews

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Congratulations Seabrook Police Chief Michael Gallagher

Police Chief Michael Gallagher, at the July 16, 2018 Board of Selectmen meeting, announced his retirement from the Police Department effective August 1, 2018. Chief Gallagher has performed just about every job for the Seabrook Police Department, and has had a very distinguished career. The Seabrook Board of Selectmen offered strong praise for Chief Gallagher after his announcement, highlighting his leadership in the battle against the scourge of opioids. Chief Gallagher will be missed.

Some biographical information on Chief Gallagher.

Chief Michael Gallagher served four years active duty in US Army Airborne Special Operations units (1982-1986) and was trained as a Special Forces Medic.

Chief Gallagher was hired as a full-time police officer by the Town of Seabrook in 1989 and attended the 88th NH Police Academy. In his 29 year career in Seabrook he has served as a Patrolman, Police Prosecutor, Patrol Sergeant, Detective Sergeant in charge of the Services Division, Lieutenant, Deputy Chief of Police, and Chief of Police.

In 1994 Chief Gallagher was given a Medal of Honor by the Manchester Union Leader for his actions in pulling two crash victims from a burning car.

In 2009, in response to the prescription drug overdose epidemic, Chief Gallagher started the first prescription drug takeback program in New Hampshire, where the community can drop off unused or unwanted prescription medications 24 hours a day.

In his efforts to better connect with the public, Chief Gallagher began regular Coffee with a Cop events at various locations in the town which gave the public an opportunity to meet the officers serving their community. Chief Gallagher also revived the Seabrook PD K9 program in the fall of 2017 with the addition of K9 Henry to the agency.

News coverage of Chief Gallagher.

Some press coverage of Chief Gallagher’s announcement.

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The Town of Seabrook Seeks Voluntary Water Use Reduction

Seabrook Announces Voluntary Water Restrictions

Town seeks public assistance in reducing water use

Seabrook— The Town of Seabrook has implemented, on July 16th at its scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting, voluntary water restrictions for its water system. The Seabrook Board of Selectmen, acting in their capacity as the Water Commissioners for the Town of Seabrook, approved the request by Water Superintendent Curtis Slayton and Chief Operator George Eaton. Due to the recent dry conditions it has become necessary to ask residents to be mindful of how they use the water. Chief Operator George Eaton pointed out to the Seabrook Board that “our rainwater measurements are below that of 2016, the year of severe drought.” Chief Operator Eaton pointed out that the voluntary restrictions recommended are driven by the Seabrook Groundwater Management Plan, which offers safe parameters for the operation of Seabrook water wells. The Seabrook Board of Selectmen request that the public:

Repair any leaks inside or outside of the home.
Refrain from washing driveways and sidewalks
Cut back on irrigation times or irrigate every other day, or between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
Reduce the frequency of the washing of cars
Check for and repair leaks in swimming pool systems

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen and the Seabrook Water Department are hopeful that more prudent use of water now will help to avoid mandatory restrictions at a later date and are appreciative of the support of the public.

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