- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

President Obama made a public show of drinking filtered water in Flint, Michigan, Wednesday to prove it’s safe, but he couldn’t find a drop to drink later during a speech marred by a coughing fit.

“Can I get some water?” Mr. Obama asked aides from the podium at a high school in Flint, after struggling through his prepared speech with persistent coughing. “I want a glass of water. I’m alright. It’ll be filtered.”

Usually aides place a glass or bottle of water for the president inside his podium. But Mr. Obama bent down to look for a drink and, not finding one, soldiered on, still coughing. He spoke for several more waterless minutes about the need for the state and federal government to replace the city’s aging, corroded pipes that led to the water-contamination crisis.

“There is no more basic element sustaining human life than water,” Mr. Obama said.

Then he coughed some more, appearing to get frustrated.

“I’m still waiting for my water,” he said. “Somebody obviously didn’t hear me. Usually I get my water pretty quick. This is not a stunt.”

An aide finally brought out some water for the president.

Earlier, during a meeting with state and local officials, Mr. Obama sipped the city’s filtered water from a glass in front of photographers and reporters to demonstrate it’s safe for consumption.

“Generally, I haven’t been doing stunts, but here you go,” Mr. Obama said as he took a small sip of the water. He said it “just confirms what we know scientifically” — that using a filter makes the water drinkable.

Even as he decried the government’s “neglect” of the city, Mr. Obama tried to reassure residents that their children exposed to lead in the drinking water will be healthy. The president used himself as an example, saying he too undoubtedly was exposed to lead as a child.

“Keep in mind, it wasn’t until the ‘80s that we started banning lead in paint, lead in toys, lead in gasoline,” he said. “I am sure that somewhere, when I was 2 years old, I was taking a chip of paint, tasting it, and I got some lead. … These kids will be fine. I don’t want anybody to start thinking that somehow all the kids in Flint are going to have problems for the rest of their lives, because that’s not true.”

At the high school, the audience of about 1,000 loudly booed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder when he was introduced for brief remarks.

“Let me begin by saying I understand why you are angry and frustrated,” Mr. Snyder said. “I want to come here today to apologize.”

The crowd got even angrier when Mr. Snyder said “we have a short-term water crisis,” adding that “we have a longer-term issue about building a stronger city of Flint.”

“You didn’t create this problem. Government failed you,” Mr. Snyder said.

Several people in the audience yelled “You failed us.”

“I will apologize and work hard to fix that,” Mr. Snyder said.

The president acknowledged there is “a lot of suspicion” about whether the water is safe to drink. He emphasized that the Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that the water is safe for everyone except children under age 6 and pregnant women, as long as a water filter has been used.

“Filtered water is safe, and it works,” he said. “Working with the state and the city, filters are now available for everyone in the city.”

But perhaps hoping to avoid the same booing that the governor received, Mr. Obama introduced EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to the crowd as “administrator,” leaving the “EPA” out of her title.

Earlier this year, the EPA’s regional administrator in Michigan resigned under criticism that she hadn’t done enough to alert the public when the agency knew the city’s water was likely contaminated.

Mr. Obama said the city’s water crisis “was a man-made disaster.”

“I’m not here to go through the full history of what happened,” the president said. “Government officials at every level weren’t attentive to potential problems the way they should have been.”

He said the larger problem was “a corrosive attitude that exists in our politics,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s a mind-set that believes that less government is the highest good, no matter what.”

The president pledged that federal and state officials will work to replace all the city’s pipes, but warned the work will take years.

A nonprofit group said Wednesday that the girl who invited Mr. Obama to Flint is still exposed to contaminated water despite assurances from the EPA that it’s safe.

Water Defense said its experts found several dangerous chemicals in the shower water and the water heater at the home of 8-year-old Mari Copeny, known as “Little Miss Flint” who wrote a letter to Mr. Obama urging him to visit. The president is meeting with the girl and other Flint residents Wednesday to call attention to the crisis.

The EPA has said filtered water in Flint is safe to drink. Water Defense officials said the EPA left a phone message with the girl’s mother that “the water’s fine,” after the agency tested it in February.

But Water Defense had the family’s water tested on April 30 and found lead, chloroform and trihalomethanes in the water heater.

“The water crisis in Flint is not over,” said actor Mark Ruffalo, founder of Water Defense. “Family’s like Mari’s still are without clean and safe drinking water, shower water, and bath water. You can’t find what you don’t look for and these residents in Flint deserve comprehensive home water testing from water heaters to shower and bath water along with complete testing for the full spectrum of chemicals.”

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