Internal company emails reveal that top executives at the utility company Veolia were aware that people in Flint, Michigan, were at risk of lead poisoning from their tap water as early as February 2015—seven months before the public was told about the problem. The emails, sent between the executives and a Flint city contractor, were obtained by the watchdog group Corporate Accountability and made public as part of a lawsuit filed by Michigan’s attorney general in a Genesee County court. The suit accuses Veolia of “professional negligence, negligence, public nuisance, unjust enrichment, and fraud.” The exchanges show senior employees recommended that city officials should be advised to switch away from the city’s new Flint River supply to protect residents from the lead infiltrating their drinking water.
In one email sent in February 2015, Vice President of Development Rob Nicholas wrote to Veolia executives, “Yep. Lead seems to be a problem.” In another, he wrote: “Do not pass this on... The city however needs to be aware of this problem with lead and operate the system to minimize this as much as possible and consider the impact in future plans. We had already identified that as something to be reviewed.” Veolia told The Guardian and MLive that city and state officials are responsible for the crisis and are now “trying to create a corporate villain where one does not exist.” Lead exposure has been linked to brain damage and lifelong learning disabilities among children and infants. The Guardian reports the company was seeking other contracts with the city of Flint at the time.