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4 May, 2016 11:59

Obama drinks Flint water during speech, brands crisis as ‘complete screwup’

US President Barack Obama was in the beleaguered Michigan city of Flint for a briefing, community meeting, and speech amid allegations of “wilful and criminal neglect” over its poison water crisis.

Although the White House had not confirmed any plans to do so, Obama  drank twice from glasses of filtered city water while in Flint, Michigan on Wednesday, during a speech in which he branded the city’s water crisis as a “complete screwup.”

During his speech at Flint Northwestern High School, accompanied by boos at the mention of Governor Rick Snyder’s name, Obama requested a glass of water, which he told the crowd was “not a stunt.”

“Usually I get my water pretty quick,” Obama said, having asked for water a second time as he coughed. He was then handed a glass, from which he took a sip.

Telling those gathered that “this shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” Obama described the crisis as “a man-made disaster,” adding that it “was avoidable, was preventable.”

“Government officials at every level weren’t attentive to potential problems the way they should have been… some very poor decisions were made,” he said.

“I do not believe that anybody consciously wanted to hurt the people in Flint. This is not the place to sort out every screw up that resulted in contaminated water,” Obama said, before taking aim at Republicans in Michigan and around the country for underfunding infrastructure.

Some of what caused the issues in Flint were down to “a broader mindset, a bigger attitude, a corrosive attitude that exists in politics and in too many levels of our government,” the president argued.

“We especially underinvest when the communities that are put at risk are poor, or don’t have a lot of political clout so aren’t as often heard in the corridors of power,” he said. “We’ve got to fix the culture of neglect that has degraded too many schools, too many roads and hurt too many futures.”

While plans get underway to replace the damaged water supply network, Obama pushed the importance of installing filters to help improve the standard of water people use to drink and bathe.

He also reminded families to have children checked by doctors for exposure to lead.

“Our kids will be fine, but you have to take action,” Obama said, reminding the crowd of how previous generations were also exposed to lead through things such as paint and gasoline and they turned out “fine.”

“Do not communicate to our children here in this city that they're going to be saddled with problems the rest of their lives,” he said. “Don’t lose hope.”

Obama also mentioned by name the 8-year-old "Little Miss Flint" Amariyanna Copeny, who wrote a letter to the president outlining about the water crisis, as well as Virginia 2nd-grader Isiah Britt, who raised over $10,000 for schools around Flint to help them buy hand sanitizer.

Earlier on Wednesday, during at a meeting with government officials at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, Obama also drank from a glass of filtered city water.

“Generally, I haven’t been doing stunts, but here you go,” Obama said before taking a sip. “Filtered water is safe and it works.”

“Working with the state and the city, filters are now available for everyone in the city,” he added.

Obama did note that pregnant women and children under 6 should use bottled water “out of an abundance of caution.”

Obama wasn't clear on how long it will take for  the city's water system to be replaced, however.

"It might take a year. It might take two years. It might take more," he said.

A spokesperson for Governor Rick Snyder had previously told ABC that they were "hopeful" the president would "drink the water in Flint, to help reinforce Gov Snyder’s actions and the EPA’s message that filtered Flint water is safe to drink."

Snyder claims he is currently drinking tap water from Flint for 30 days in an attempt to prove it is safe for consumption.

The White House press secretary said Monday that he was unaware at that stage of any plan for the President to be seen publicly downing a glass of Flint's finest, although he has done photo ops consuming other liquids in the past.

A former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy analyst and whistleblower criticized Obama for his lack of action, two years after austerity measures instituted by Governor Rick Snyder’s emergency managers poisoned the city’s water supply with lead.

“Perhaps the trip to Flint is an attempt to place a bandage on an ugly chapter of willful and criminal neglect in Obama’s presidential legacy or simply an obscene checkmark on his political bucket list,” wrote Dr Marsha Coleman-Adebayo on a blog post titled A Day Late and a Dollar Short: Mr Obama Goes to Flint, citing the unrest following the shootings of unarmed Black men such as Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.

The sentiments echo those of Flint filmmaker Michael Moore, who pleaded with the President last week to urgently help with the ongoing crisis, warning riots could happen soon.

READ MORE: Michael Moore to Obama: Flint will riot ‘soon’ if you don’t #ArrestGovSnyder

The Oscar-winning director, along with a number of his fellow residents, called on Obama to #ArrestGovSnyder, adding that Michigan's right-wing leader “has now killed more Americans than ISIS”.

#neverforget #flint #arrestgovsnyder #flintlivesmatter

A photo posted by The Chick Fix (@thechickfix) on

Coinciding with Obama's visit to Flint was a court hearing involving Mike Glasgow, a water plant operator, who was facing felony and misdemeanor charges for his part in the city's water crisis. However, Glasgow has reached a plea deal with the Attorney General's Office that could see him avoid jail time, ABC reported.

Glasgow pleaded no contest to the charge of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor, in return for the government dropping the felony charge of tampering with evidence. If he co-operates with the prosecutors over the next year, Glasgow could even avoid both charges.

According to Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who helped uncover the lead poisoning, however, Edwards isn't really to blame in the first place.

Glasgow made errors but was not in the same league as the other instigators,Edwards argued, telling Michigan Live that the water plant operator "did not have the training that would have created an expectation or a knowledge of how harmful his actions were."

Judge Jennifer Manley will decide on the plea's acceptability on August 3.

Flint has been dealing with this issue since April 2014 when the city’s water source was changed in an attempt to save money.

The new source was left untreated with anti-corrosives, resulting in lead from supply lines seeping into the water and contaminating the supply.

The water has since been switched back to its original source, but the lead in the lines is still present.

READ MORE: Detroit resumes water shutoffs that could impact 20,000 customers

Despite complaints from residents in Flint, state officials insisted the water was safe to drink for a year and a half.

Some 12 Flint residents died during an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which some believe is connected to lead contamination.

#flint #flintwatercrisis #protest

A photo posted by Derek R. (@derek_r26) on

Congressman Gerry Connolly pressed Snyder during a hearing in March about his emergency managers and austerity economics.

"This is a failure of a philosophy of governance that you advocate," the Democrat from Virginia told the Republican from Michigan. "The taint and the stain that state government has put on this country in the form of Flint will be a long time being erased. At some point, the buck stops at your office."

Despite the longevity and seriousness of the situation, Obama did not announce he would visit the city until last week, after receiving a letter from an eight-year-old girl who lives on bottled water and is restricted to 60-second showers so she doesn’t make the rashes caused by lead any worse.

Coleman-Adebayo warned that if the media “stick-to-the-script and talking points agenda”, the visit will merely be “framed around a president visiting Flint moved by a child’s letter.”

She wants the press to push the president for answers on when exactly he was informed of the issue and what his immediate actions were regarding his orders to the EPA.

A federal court found the EPA guilty of violating Coleman-Adebayo’s civil rights in 2000 during the George W Bush administration. She’s now on the board of directors for the National Whistleblowers Center.

Air Force One arrived in Flint Bishop International Airport just before 12 p.m. EST where the president was briefed by Flint officials.

Following his speech at Flint Northwestern High School, Obama is flying back to Washington for an evening speech at the $250-per-plate Gala Awards Dinner sponsored by bottled-water retailer Walmart, Japanese automaker Toyota, and the American Petroleum Institute.

READ MORE: Michigan police tracking social media to keep tabs on Flint water crisis chatter