Michigan medical officer ordered to trial over Flint water deaths

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(Reuters) – A Michigan judge on Friday ordered the state’s chief medical officer to stand trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the contamination of the city of Flint’s water supply, a crisis that resulted in 12 deaths.

Eden Wells, a physician who serves as the state medical executive, faces the manslaughter charge for her alleged failure to stop an outbreak of Legionaires’ disease while the city was taking water from the Flint River.

She was ordered to stand trial by Judge William Crawford, said a spokeswoman from Flint District Court in Genesee County, Michigan.

Jerold Lax, Wells’ attorney, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In June 2017, six current and former state and city officials were charged for their roles in the crisis, which drew national attention beginning in 2014.

The city had switched its water supply to the Flint River from Lake Huron in April 2014 to cut costs. The corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes, contaminating the drinking water.

Flint switched back to Lake Huron water in October 2015, but the contamination continued. In addition to the 12 deaths, more than 70 people were sickened.

The contamination prompted dozens of lawsuits and criminal charges against former government officials.

Legionaires’ disease is a serious form of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria and typically spread through water found in places like water towers or complex air conditioning systems. People can get sick when they inhale mist or swallow water containing the bacteria.

Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago and Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot

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