Nick Lyon, the head of the Michigan health department and Dr. Eden Wells the state’s chief medical officer, were both charged in an investigation into Flint, Michigan’s water crisis.
On Wednesday, Lyon head of the Department of Health and Human Services was charged with involuntary manslaughter along with other crimes. Lyon is being accused of failing to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area, which some experts linked to Flint’s poor water quality in 2014-2015.
MORE: Nick Lyon is accused of failing to alert public about Flint-area Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, linked by some to poor water quality
— Meg Kinnard (@MegKinnardAP) June 14, 2017
Legionnaires is a type of pneumonia which attacks the lungs. It is caused by bacteria that thrives in warm water. In 2014 alone Flint had nearly 100 cases of Legionnaires, including 12 deaths, per MLive.
Wells has been charged with obstruction of justice as well as lying to a police officer. Lyon and Wells are the highest-ranking state officials to be formally charged in the Flint water crisis.
The investigation into Lyon and Wells was led by Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette who launched a probe into the water crisis in 2016. Schuette’s investigation was looking into “what, if any, Michigan laws were violated in the process that resulted in the contamination crisis currently forcing Flint residents to rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing as they fear for their health.”
Flint’s water crisis attracted national attention in 2014 when the city switched its main water source to the Flint River and failed to properly treat it. The lead began to seep into the city pipes, forcing residents to use contaminated or bottled water.
When residents started to complain about the water, officials in Michigan initially dismissed their concerns and failed to respond adequately. Now, in 2017, more than a dozen former city and state officials have been criminally charged in connection with the Flint water crisis.
If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Lyon faces up to 15 years in prison as well as a fine up to $7,500 and restitution to the victim’s family. Lyon could also potentially face wrongful death lawsuits from the deceased’s families.
Dr. Wells will face somewhat lighter penalties if he is charged with obstruction of justice. In the state of Michigan obstruction of justice can result in a felony conviction. If convicted, Wells could face up to 2 years in prison as well as up to $2,000 in fines.