Nick Lyon, the head of Michigan’s health department, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for his role in the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.
The charges were announced in a Flint court on Wednesday, making Lyon the highest-ranking state official charged in connection with the issue.
The charges most likely stem from 12 deaths linked to Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by bacteria that can be harbored in mismanaged water systems and that are particularly dangerous in large buildings.
Researchers linked the outbreak of Legionella bacteria to corrosion resulting from the mistreatment of Flint’s water starting in 2014. The Legionnaires’ deaths are the only fatalities directly linked to the lead poisoning crisis, which drew national attention starting at the end of 2015.
Emails obtained by a liberal watchdog group last year revealed that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services knew of the Legionella outbreak in 2015 and even told the governor’s office ― but said it wasn’t a serious problem.
The state attorney general is investigating the lead crisis.
Legionnaires’ disease is a pneumonia-like illness caused by inhaling water vapor infected with Legionella bacteria. Unlike the lead poisoning that has affected thousands of Flint children, Legionnaires’ is not caused by drinking contaminated water.
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