Ex-official: Legionnaires’ seemed tied to Flint water switch

Corinne Miller, former director of the Michigan Bureau of Disease Control Prevention and Epidemiology, enters the courtroom before serving as a witness during the preliminary examination of Nick Lyon, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Genesee County District Court in Flint, Mich. Lyon faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for his response to the Flint Water Crisis. His court preceedings have progressed farther than those of other public officials facing criminal charges in connection to the crisis. Lyon's exam was conducted in front of Judge David J. Goggins. (Terray Sylvester /The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s former director of disease control testified Friday that she believed a spike in Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area was related to a switch in the city’s water supply. Corinne Miller said she felt “relieved” to take her concerns and statistics to the head of the Department of Health and Human Services in January 2015. But Nick Lyon apparently didn’t share them with his boss, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, until 12 months later. A public announcement followed. Miller is a key witness for prosecutors in their criminal case against Lyon, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of an 85-year-old man and misconduct in office. A judge must decide whether there’s enough evidence to send the case to trial. Snyder has defended Lyon and kept him on the job. Defense attorneys call the charges “baseless.” Attorney General Bill Schuette says a timely announcement about a Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Flint area in 2014-15 might have saved Robert Skidmore. He died of congestive heart failure, six months after he was treated for Legionnaires’. Nearly 100 cases, including 12 deaths, were detected in the Flint area in 2014 and 2015 while the city was using the Flint River for water. Legionnaires’ is a pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs. Cooling systems and misting fountains can be sources. Skidmore’s home didn’t have Flint water, but it’s believed he got Legionnaires’ while in a hospital that used the water. Miller pleaded no contest to willful neglect of duty for failing to inform the public about the outbreak. She was sentenced to probation and agreed to cooperate with Schuette’s office. “How many people have to die before you declare a public alert to Genesee County?” special prosecutor Todd Flood asked. “None,” Miller testified. Flint used the Flint River for 18 months but didn’t treat the water to reduce corrosion. As a result, lead leached from old plumbing and contaminated the system. The city returned to a regional water source in fall 2015 after Snyder finally acknowledged the disaster. Water quality has greatly improved, but residents still are advised to use tap filters.