Bowcock, who was involved in investigating the Flint, Michigan water crisis, said a lack of accountability by people in charge of water maintenance is “killing people.” Almost 100,000 Flint residents were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water due to insufficient water treatment.
The Flint water crisis also caused a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed 12 people. Michigan’s attorney general charged several state officials with involuntary manslaughter in June.
Michael Conway, an attorney who specializes in Legionnaires’ cases, said the Flint manslaughter case may set a precedent that results in more people being held to account. “In my experience, most of these cases settle, as people don’t want it in the public domain that their water systems are contaminated. Flint was an extreme case, but it could change the tide.”
Patricia Rouse still wants somebody to be held accountable for her brother’s death. She said New York City’s health department wouldn’t return her calls after the South Bronx outbreak happened in the summer of 2015.
“When we started probing in a manner that revealed the city’s responsibility, they feared for their jobs and just clammed up,” she said. “The city tells you not to worry as they want members of the public to dismiss it so it takes the heat off them. They say you have to be elderly or have other health problems, but my brother was fit and young, so why did he die?”
In a statement to News21, the health department said that “all cases are investigated, including an interview of the patient’s next of kin to determine the patient’s whereabouts before illness onset.” The statement said Rouse’s case was not considered part of the outbreak because when he acquired legionella, a cooling tower “implicated in the South Bronx Legionnaires’ disease outbreak” was not operational.
However, Patricia Rouse still isn’t satisfied.
“My brother died because of contaminated water, and someone needs to take responsibility for that.”
News21 reporters Fionnuala O’Leary, Briana Smith, Lauren Kaljur, Bliss Zechman and Alexis Reese contributed to this article.
Amy Molloy is a Veronica Guerin Dublin City University Fellow.