Obama Calls Flint Water Crisis 'Inexplicable And Inexcusable'

The president said he understands why residents are outraged at the breakdown in government.

01/20/2016 10:38 pm ET | Updated Jan 21, 2016

President Barack Obama on Wednesday called the ongoing municipal water crisis in Flint, Michigan, "inexplicable and inexcusable" and said government "broke down" in its responsibility to protect public health.

Obama, during an interview in Detroit with CBS set to air later this week, said he understands why Flint residents are outraged. The city's water supply has been contaminated with lead and other pollutants for months after a state-approved plan to save money by switching to corrosive Flint River water from the Detroit municipal system.

Obama, in an interview set to air on CBS Sunday Morning, told host Lee Cowan that government in Michigan "broke down" in its responsibility to protect public health and safety.

"What is inexplicable and inexcusable is once people figured out that there was a problem there, and that there was lead in the water, the notion that immediately families weren't notified, things weren't shut down," Obama said. "That shouldn't happen anywhere."

Obama was in Detroit to deliver a speech at the United Auto Workers-General Motors Center. He also commented on the crisis in Flint during the address.

"I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kid's health could be at risk," he said.

Flint has been reeling from a months-long public health emergency that began in October, when residents started to complain about brown water coming out of taps that caused rashes. Local government largely ignored complaints from the predominantly black city. Officials finally acknowledged high lead levels in the water late last year after a local doctor obtained records showing elevated lead in blood tests for city children. 

Obama declared a state of emergency in Michigan on Saturday and has designated a federal disaster coordinator to oversee the response.

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) acknowledged during his State of the State address on Tuesday that the state made errors in handling the crisis.

"I'm sorry, and I will fix it," Snyder said, addressing Flint residents. "You did not create this crisis, and you do not deserve this."

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both lambasted Snyder for his handling of the crisis during last weekend's presidential debate.

In an interview with CBS on Wednesday, Snyder said people shouldn't consider the water safe "until it's been throughly tested" and urged residents to continue to use bottled and filtered water. He didn't say how much lead was in the water, but noted that "probably over 100 kids" have high levels in their blood. 

Eric Schultz, White House principal deputy press secretary, told The Washington Post that Obama is "deeply engaged" with the disaster response. Schultz declined to say whether the White House thinks Snyder should resign over the crisis, noting the government "should be focused on the actual problem."

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