In this photo taken De. 18, 2015, President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington. On Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, the president signed emergency declaration and ordered federal aid for Flint, Mich., authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Homeland Security Department to coordinate relief efforts. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
DETROIT (AP) — President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration Saturday for Flint, Michigan, that clears the way for federal aid for the city, which is undergoing a drinking water crisis.
The White House issued a release calling for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to “alleviate the hardship and suffering” on residents. Flint switched water supplies in 2014, and the corrosive water from the Flint River leached lead from old pipes.
FEMA has been authorized to provide water, filters, cartridges and other items for 90 days. Direct federal funding also will be made available.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder requested the declaration late Thursday, saying needs “far exceed the state’s capability,” and added that emergency measures could cost $41 million. His letter to Obama painted a bleak picture of the troubled city, describing Flint as an “impoverished area” that has been overwhelmed by the release of lead from old pipes.
The tap water in Flint, population 99,000, became contaminated after the city switched its water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River while a pipeline to Lake Huron is under construction. The corrosive water lacked adequate treatment and caused lead to leach from old pipes in homes and schools.
Flint returned to the Detroit system in October after elevated lead levels were discovered in children, and could tap into the new pipeline by summer.
But officials remain concerned that damaged pipes could continue to leach lead, to which exposure can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in children as well as kidney ailments in adults.
The National Guard has been distributing free water, filters and other supplies.
Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation applauded the move. Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said she will push for long-term resources, and Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee said residents “deserve every resource available to make sure they have safe water and are able to recover from this terrible man-made disaster created by the state.”