Flint's New Water Nightmare: Legionnaires' Outbreak

Spike in disease could be tied to tainted water
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 14, 2016 7:50 AM CST
A young girl stands behind a sign that reads "I've been poisoned by policy" during a Friday protest outside of City Hall to protest Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's handling of the water crisis.   (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

(Newser) – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced a new development Wednesday in Flint's water crisis that "just adds to the disaster we are already facing": specifically, a marked increase in cases of Legionnaires' disease that could be linked to the area's tainted water, reports the Detroit Free Press. From June 2014 to November 2015, there were 87 cases in Genesee County, 10 of them fatal, per the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In the previous four years, Legionnaires' cases ran from six per year to 13, CNN notes. And while the MDHHS isn't able to definitively tie the spike to Flint's water, it's taking the news seriously, and a drinking water expert who's been studying Flint's water tells the Free Press there's a "very strong likelihood" that it played a role.

MDHHS officials first observed the rise in Legionnaires' cases in the fall of 2014, per the Free Press, and researchers found the bacteria to blame was proliferating in larger buildings, many with older plumbing. "Our hypothesis is that something about the Flint River and lack of corrosion control, plus big buildings, is creating these problems," Marc Edwards, head of an independent Virginia team looking into the crisis, tells the Free Press. Speaking Wednesday, Snyder said he learned of the issue just "a few days ago" and appeared to place some blame on the state's Department of Environmental Quality, the paper notes. "We're taking every action within reason, and going beyond reason to address this," he said. State health officials say it's OK for residents to shower and bathe, though they still can't drink the water. Edwards' team agrees, though he laments how it's all been handled. "It's a crisis of conscience in government," he tells CNN. "There are just so many places where you wish people had done things differently." (Read more Flint, Michigan stories.)

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