Three officials have been charged in the Flint water crisis
The city utilities manager shares his story in an interview done before the charges were filed
Mike Glasgow has been quick to admit that there are things he could have done differently.
Flint, Michigan’s, city utilities manager was among the first to be criminally charged for his role in the water crisis that has deprived the city of clean drinking water for two years.
Prosecutors say he altered a water quality report that could have raised red flags about the lead issues in Flint months before it became public. He’s accused of neglect of duty and tampering with evidence, both felonies that could lead to prison time.
“I was a key figure in this – I am operating the treatment plant and seeing some of the sampling,” he told CNN in March, before the charges were filed.
But Glasgow said then that he had always tried to do the right thing, raising concerns to those above him at the city and state level. But he said he felt he did not have the authority to override the decisions that eventually led to Flint’s toxic water.
“I was born and raised here in Flint. I would never do (anything) to hurt this city or its citizens,” he said. “And that’s why I remained here to try to help clean up this issue. … In hindsight, you replay this in your mind as time goes on,” he said. “…I should’ve questioned some of the direction we were receiving.”
Glasgow, who spent much of his career at Flint’s water plant, said he felt at the time that he didn’t have the authority to make changes. He said he was following orders.
He lives in Flint, unlike most officials involved in the decision-making that led to the water crisis. He drank the water, and so did his family.
In the weeks leading up to Flint’s water switch from Lake Huron to the Flint River, he was one of the few to put his concerns on the record in emails to state officials.
But the special prosecutor appointed to investigate, Todd Flood, said he isn’t buying Glasgow’s defense, comparing it to the excuses used by Nazi war criminals.
“That defense didn’t work in several places – when you’re ordered to do something, right? Nuremberg and the like. … It’s a tough, tough situation … with regards to Mr. Glasgow, but when you did a criminal act, an overt act and you had the corrupt mind to do that act, you’re going to be charged.”
Charges come as a surprise in Flint
Glasgow was arrested alongside two state officials in charge of Flint for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Mike Prysby and Stephen Busch. Both face several counts, including official misconduct and violations of the safe drinking water act.
Glasgow being charged alongside Prysby and Busch came as a surprise to many in Flint.
Up until the charges were announced, he was still an integral part of the Flint administration – in charge of Flint’s utilities.
He was one of the few who Mayor Karen Weaver kept on staff after winning an election in November on the platform of going after those responsible for the water crisis more boldly than her predecessor.
Lee Anne Walters, the Flint mother-turned-advocate who prosecutors listed as the victim in the charging documents, told CNN that Glasgow was one of the only city workers in Flint who had helped her when she discovered dangerously high levels of lead in her water.
“I made it really clear Mike Glasgow was the only person who was helping us from the city,” she said.
Marc Edwards, one of a team from Virginia Tech that has done extensive research on Flint’s water problems, said Glasgow “is not in the same league as the others, despite making some mistakes.”
Glasgow has spent many hours over the last three months with investigators, telling them the details of conversations with state and city officials.
We now know that officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality decided not to use federally mandated corrosion control in Flint’s water, leading to corroded pipes that leached lead and other toxins into the water.
The crisis has deprived Flint of safe drinking water for two years. Some residents have suffered the effects of lead poisoning. Twelve people died of the water-borne Legionnaires’ disease, which investigators suspect was caused by a lack of corrosion control.
Because Flint was under financial control of the state, city officials were not the decision-makers leading up to the crisis, though many have criticized them for not speaking up sooner or alerting the public to the consequences of the state’s bad decisions.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been chided for not doing enough to oversee the state when it was making bad decisions. And Walters said she thinks Glasgow had nowhere to turn.
“I really kind of feel like Glasgow was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you disagreed with what the MDEQ was doing, the EPA had already backed up the state, so who was he supposed to go to? Who is he supposed to talk to?”
Questions on the water-supply switch
Even before the water was switched, Glasgow said, he began to raise concerns with the state.
For example, why wasn’t corrosion control used in the first place? The federal lead and copper rule says it’s required, and Glasgow said that as they were preparing for the water switch, he asked Prysby and Busch about the use of phosphates, the chemical used to treat water for corrosion control.
He said Prysby, the district engineer for the Office of Drinking Water at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Busch, the district supervisor for the Officer of Drinking Water at the department, told him in an in-person meeting that they would instead do two rounds of six-month lead and copper testing to see if corrosion control was needed in Flint.
“I was surprised. I didn’t really dive into it much more,” he said.
Busch would later write in an email to the EPA that Flint had “optimized” corrosion control, which was not true.
Prysby and Busch did not respond to multiple attempts to reach them for comment. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them at their Wednesday arraignments, and are now on unpaid leave.
A week before the water switch, Glasgow wrote an email to state officials including Prysby, Busch and others saying:
“If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple of weeks, it will be against my direction. I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before I feel we are ready. I will reiterate this to management above me, but they seem to have their own agenda.”
Glasgow said that email was about a lack of proper staffing, a problem he said he was able to fix before the switch. But, again, in hindsight, “You know as we see the problems and the issues we faced as time went by, I guess it gives a little more to that email I sent.”
By the first round of six-month tests for lead and copper, Glasgow knew there was something wrong.
“The tests were slowly revealing that there was an issue with corrosion in the system. Lead levels were rising,” he said.
His tests showed high levels of lead in the water at some Flint residents’ homes. But there were several problems with his testing.
First, the protocol that he said the state gave him didn’t match the EPA’s protocol for testing lead in water. He was told to pre-flush, something an EPA memo later said probably lowered the results of lead.
Second, he said that his sample consisted only of homes with lead pipes, but many of the homes where Glasgow tested did not, invalidating the report. He said that’s because the city had very poor record keeping and he was unsure of which homes had lead pipes.
Third, he eliminated the two highest samples. And that’s where he said Prysby and Busch had again interfered. They told Glasgow that Walters’ home and one other home with high lead levels did not meet the standards for the testing.
“They did come up with justified reasoning for removing those two sites, but you could’ve removed another half dozen or so if that were the case as well,” Glasgow said. “They only focused on those two.”
Those two had the highest lead levels.
“It was a little disturbing,” he said. “I did make a (note) in the corrected report that I was asked to do this, asked to do these changes. So, I tried to cover my bases, so to speak, to show that I was going to turn in any sample. … You know, whether it meets a rule specifically or not. I wasn’t leaving nothing out.”
But, he said, “then I was directed to.”
So, the report that was released as part of an open records request was altered. Both versions would later become public and be scrutinized by the media.
“I can see where it would add to the suspicions of the public,” he said.
After the testing, flawed or not, Glasgow said he realized that not having corrosion control wasn’t working for the city of Flint. He said there were conversations with the state officials about it, but “they wanted to wait and see the second six-month round of sampling.”
Glasgow said he didn’t agree, and so he went to a city engineer on contract in spring 2015 and took him aside.
“I kind of put it in his head to start designing a phosphate or a corrosion control feed system for us because we were going to need one,” Glasgow said. “He just kind of nodded his head in agreement, and said, “OK, we’ll start working on something.”
Earlier this year, when CNN interviewed Mayor Weaver, she said that Glasgow’s former boss, Howard Croft – who resigned shortly before Weaver took office in November 2015 – had discounted some of the concerns that Glasgow had raised.
“I wasn’t here. I can’t tell you the actual things because it’ll be one person’s story and the other person is no longer here,” Weaver said.
After he was charged, Glasgow was put on leave from his city duties.
His attorney, Robert Harrison, said Glasgow “strongly opposed” the city’s switch to the Flint River for drinking water, and that the criminal charges are “difficult to understand, given what Mike did in this case.”
“Mike voluntarily met with and spoke with numerous investigators … on several different occasions. These meetings all occurred over many days and many hours each time they met. At no time did Mike ask for an attorney to accompany him.”
A task force commissioned by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to determine who is at fault for what happened would later put much of the blame on the state – both the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the emergency managers who were making decisions for Flint, including the one to switch the water, in an attempt to cut costs.
But the task force’s final report did not spare the city of all blame.
It said Flint’s public works personnel were “ill-prepared to assume responsibility for full operation of the Flint WTP (Water Treatment Plant)” and that city workers should have asked ” ‘What will happen without corrosion control treatment?’ “
“I think if you look at things in hindsight, we can say, yeah, we should’ve asked more questions. But corrosion control wasn’t the only question at the time. So, it probably didn’t get as much time dedicated to it as it should’ve,” Glasgow said.