Former EPA regional chief: Flint water crisis 'could have been avoided'

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - It’s official: Susan Hedman is out as administrator at Chicago’s regional office of the EPA, which is the same office that has been overseeing the water emergency in Flint, Michigan.

And now, union employees who work in that office issued an apology to the people of Flint.

FOX 32's Scott Schneider spoke exclusively with Hedman's predecessor, and the former head of the regional office had some strong feelings about what went wrong in Flint and how the crisis could have been avoided.

Mary Gade told FOX 32 the blame over what's happened in Flint is shared equally between local, state and regional officials, but also that what happened in Flint could have been avoided if officials in the Chicago office had acted sooner rather than later.

As Chicago sends hundreds of pallets of drinking water to residents of Flint, the city says goodbye to Hedman whose resignation officially took effect February 1st.

FOX 32: Could the water crisis in Flint, Michigan have been avoided?

“Most definitely. It absolutely could have been avoided at numerous points along the way, something could have been done to stop it from becoming the catastrophe that it has,” Gade said.

Fired from the EPA in 2008 during what's been called an inter-office battle over a toxic waste dump in Michigan, Gade says there are many bad actors that contributed to the crisis in Flint. But she also points the finger squarely at Hedman's office for not communicating the high lead levels found in the city's tap water sooner.

According to Gade, the regional office had a legal obligation to do so

“To give the citizens of Flint the notice they needed that this water system was unsafe to drink, the information they needed about how to protect themselves from it, the ability to outline alternate drinking water supplies and filters for their taps, and the ability to order the state to do the correct thing,” Gade said.

Gade, who now runs an environmental group in Chicago, says other cities with older infrastructures could find dangerous levels of lead in their tap water. However, she has absolute faith in the EPA’s ability to stop another Flint from happening again.

“There are some incredibly dedicated staff at EPA, passionate about their jobs who care very much about making sure that the public's health is protected,” Gade said.

FOX 32 did reach out to outgoing EPA Administrator Susan Hedman via email. We asked her about her role in the Flint water crisis and said we would love to get her side of the story. But she has yet to respond.

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