Three years after the beginning of the Flint water crisis, five Michigan officials are being charged with involuntary manslaughter. The state's Health Department chief, Nick Lyon — the most senior official charged — could spend up to 15 years in prison if convicted. While Lyon is not the first or the only person to be charged because of the water crisis, he is the person most directly responsible for the deaths of 12 people and the lead poisoning of Flint's children. Lyon is also facing charges of misconduct in office.
The other Michigan officials charged with involuntary manslaughter include the city's emergency manager, who was in charge of the water supply switch to Flint River. (When the switch was made, city officials put out a statement saying that the water was safe to drink.) The others charged were the head of the public works department and two state environmental regulators.
Lyon is being charged with involuntary manslaughter because of an outbreak of Legionnaire's disease in the city in 2014-15, which he knew about but did not report to the public. The disease, which is a form of pneumonia, spread after the city switched its water source. This outbreak killed 12 people and sickened dozens of others.
The lead poisoning occurred because when Flint switched its water source, the water from the new source corroded the pipes enough so that they leached lead into Flint's drinking supply. Officials ignored complaints from residents about poor water quality. The consequences of lead poisoning in children are myriad and serious, including developmental delay, learning difficulties, and seizures.
In addition to those charged with involuntary manslaughter, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eden Wells is being charged with obstruction of justice and lying to an investigator. Dr. Wells and Mr. Lyon are the highest-ranking officials being charged in the case so far, and the Washington Post reports that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has expressed his support for them and said that the two will keep their jobs.
Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette had stronger words for Lyon, however. "Mr. Lyon failed in his responsibilities to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Flint," he said on Wednesday at a press conference. "The families of Flint have experienced a tragic, tragic health and safety crisis for the past three years."
While the investigation will certainly go on and there could be even more officials facing charges, it is the city's youngest residents — the children who now suffer from lead poisoning — who will feel the effects of this crisis for the rest of their lives.