Obama sips water in Flint, tells residents it is safe

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Obama takes sip of filtered Flint water

FLINT, Mich., May 4 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sipped filtered water in Flint, Michigan, on Wednesday and assured parents that children over 6 years old could do the same during a visit to a city still reeling from a scandal over lead-poisoned drinking water.

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Obama made the trip to the mostly African-American community to reassure residents that the water was safe even as he predicted it would take more than two years to replace the city's aging pipes, which leached lead into the drinking water.

"The water around this table was Flint water that was filtered," Obama said during a meeting with regulators as he drank some himself.

"It just confirms what we know scientifically, which is if you're using a filter ... then Flint water at this point is drinkable."

See photos from the city's water crisis:

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Obama sips water in Flint, tells residents it is safe
People wait in line to attend a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy about the tainted water in Flint, Michigan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 17, 2016. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 23: A volunteer walks by cases of bottled water at the St. Mark Baptist Church in Flint, Mich., that serves as a water distribution area, February 23, 2016. The water supply was not properly treated after being switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River and now contains lead and iron. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 23: From left, Immanuel Stinson, Tirrell Mills, Walter Simmons, and Charles Reid, man a water distribution area at the St. Mark Baptist Church in Flint, Mich., February 23, 2016. The water supply was not properly treated after being switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River and now contains lead and iron. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 26: Matt Hopper holds and comforts Nyla Hopper, age 5 of Flint, after she has her blood drawn to be tested for lead on January 26, 2016 at Eisenhower Elementary School in Flint, Michigan. Free lead screenings are performed for Flint children 6-years-old and younger, one of several events sponsored by Molina Healthcare following the city's water contamination and federal state of emergency. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Flint residents Gladyes Williamson (C) holds a bottle full of contaminated water, and a clump of her hair, alongside Jessica Owens (R), holding a baby bottle full of contaminated water, during a news conference after attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Flint, Michigan water crisis on Capitol Hill February 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. Williamson, and Owens traveled to Washington by bus with other flint familes to attend the House hearing on the crisis, and demand that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder be brought before Congress to testify under oath. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Flint resident Jessica Owens holds a baby bottle full of contaminated water, during a news conference after attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Flint, Michigan water crisis on Capitol Hill February 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. Owens and other Flint families traveled to Washington by bus to attend a House hearing on the crisis and demand that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder be brought before Congress to testify under oath. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Flint residents call for justice during a news conference, after attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Flint, Michigan water crisis on Capitol Hill February 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. A group of Flint families traveled to Washington by bus to attend a House hearing on the crisis and demand that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder be brought before Congress to testify under oath. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Flint resident Leroy Jackson attends a news conference with Flint families after attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Flint, Michigan water crisis on Capitol Hill February 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. Jackson and other Flint families traveled to Washington by bus to attend a House hearing and demand that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder be brought before Congress to testify under oath. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 3: From left, Marc Edwards, Charles P. Lundsford Professor of Environmental and Water Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, looks on as LeeAnne Walters, Flint resident who helped expose the lead crisis, testifies during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Examining Federal Administration of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Flint, Michigan on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 27: A sign at a local restaurant reassures customers that they are not on Flint water but on uncontaminated water pulled from Detroit on January 27, 2016 at Westside Diner in Flint, Michigan. Local restaurants have faced concerns following the contamination of Flint's water and subsequent federal state of emergency. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 24: Matt Krol speaks to protestors and citizens about the Flint Water Crisis on January 24, 2016 at Flint City Hall in Flint, Michigan. The event was organized by Genesee County Volunteer Militia to protest corruption they see in government related to the Flint water crisis that resulted in a federal state of emergency. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 24: A shirt worn by a man during a rally displays a poisonous logo alongside the text 'City of Flint MI Water Dept.' on January 24, 2016 at Flint City Hall in Flint, Michigan. The event was organized by Genesee County Volunteer Militia to protest corruption they see in government related to the Flint water crisis that resulted in a federal state of emergency. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 24: Protestors hold signs and listen as Dave McKellar speaks about the troubles facing Flint at a rally on January 24, 2016 at Flint City Hall in Flint, Michigan. The event was organized by Genesee County Volunteer Militia to protest corruption they see in government related to the Flint water crisis that resulted in a federal state of emergency. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 24: Darius Simpson, an Eastern Michigan University student from Akron, Ohio, carries water he brought to donate for Flint residents during a rally on January 24, 2016 at Flint City Hall in Flint, Michigan. The event was organized by Genesee County Volunteer Militia to protest corruption they see in government related to the Flint water crisis that resulted in a federal state of emergency. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 23: A water collection device is handed out to citizens of Flint for testing contaminated water on January 23, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. A federal state of emergency has been declared due to the city's water supply being contaminated. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 24: Arthur Woodson, self proclaimed 'Water Warrior' from Flint, Michigan, speaks about the Flint Water Crisis on January 24, 2016 at Flint City Hall in Flint, Michigan. The event was organized by Genesee County Volunteer Militia to protest corruption they see in government related to the Flint water crisis that resulted in a federal state of emergency. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 27: Signs for a local restaurant reassure customers that they are not on Flint water but on uncontaminated water pulled from Detroit on January 27, 2016 at Westside Diner in Flint, Michigan. Local restaurants have faced concerns following the contamination of Flint's water and subsequent federal state of emergency. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 27: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wears pins as he speaks to the media regarding the status of the Flint water crisis on January 27, 2016 at Flint City Hall in Flint, Michigan. A federal state of emergency has been declared in Flint related to the city's water becoming contaminated. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 23: National Guard members distributing water to citizens of Flint on January 23, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. Water is being handed out for free to citizens of Flint following a federal state of emergency being declared due to the city's water supply becoming contaminated. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 17: Justin Roberson (L), age 6, of Flint, Michigan and Mychal Adams, age 1, of Flint wait on a stack of bottled water at a rally where the Rev. Jesse Jackson was speaking about about the water crises at the Heavenly Host Baptist Church January 17, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. U.S. President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Michigan, which will free up federal aid to help the city of Flint with lead contaminated drinking water. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder requested emergency and disaster declarations after activating the National Guard to help the American Red Cross distribute water to residents. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 17: A sign on a the front of a building warns residents to filter their water January 17, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. U.S. President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Michigan, which will free up federal aid to help the city of Flint with lead contaminated drinking water. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder requested emergency and disaster declarations after activating the National Guard to help the American Red Cross distribute water to residents. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 17: The Flint River flows in downtown January 17, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. U.S. President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Michigan, which will free up federal aid to help the city of Flint with lead contaminated drinking water. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder requested emergency and disaster declarations after activating the National Guard to help the American Red Cross distribute water to residents. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 17: Soldiers from the Michigan Army National Guard Flint hand out bottled water at a fire station January 17, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. U.S. President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Michigan, which will free up federal aid to help the city of Flint with lead contaminated drinking water. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder requested emergency and disaster declarations after activating the National Guard to help the American Red Cross distribute water to residents. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 13: A sign points the ay for Flint residents to get bottled water, water testing kits, and water filters at a Flint Fire Station January 13, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder activated the National Guard to help the American Red Cross distribute water to Flint residents to help them deal with the lead contamination that is in the City of Flint's water supply. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 13: Michigan National Guard Staff Sergeant Steve Kiger of Beaverton, Michigan, welcomes Flint, Michigan residents as they arrive at a Flint Fire Station to get bottled water January 13, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder activated the National Guard to help the American Red Cross distribute water to Flint residents to help them deal with the lead contamination that is in the City of Flint's water supply. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 13: The Flint Water Plant tower is shown January 13, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder activated the National Guard to help the American Red Cross distribute water to Flint residents to help them deal with the lead contamination that is in the City of Flint's water supply. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 13: Michigan National Guard Staff Sergeant William Phillips (right) of Birch Run, Michigan, helps a worker unload a pallet of bottled water at a Flint Fire Station January 13, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder activated the National Guard to help the American Red Cross distribute water to Flint residents to help them deal with the lead contamination that is in the City of Flint's water supply. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
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While under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014, the financially strapped city switched its water source from Detroit's system to the Flint River to save money. The more caustic water caused lead, a toxin that harms brain development, to leach from the city's pipes.

After blood tests of children showed high lead levels, the city switched back to Detroit's system last October but residents still must filter their water. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of high lead levels.

The president urged parents to ensure their children were tested for lead in their blood and said residents should run their taps frequently to flush out any remaining pollutants.

Later, at a local high school, Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who said he had come to apologize, was greeted by boos.

"You didn't create this problem, government failed you," Snyder said as some shouted back, "You did!"

Obama heard from federal officials on the response in Flint,

where questions linger over whether his administration's environmental regulators could have acted more urgently to address the crisis in a city where more than 40 percent of its 100,000 residents live in poverty.

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell accompanied Obama on the trip.

Michigan brought charges against three state and local officials last month for misleading regulatory officials and manipulating water tests. The Michigan attorney general said more charges were to follow. One of the three already charged reached a deal with prosecutors on Wednesday in which he agreed to cooperate in the probes.

Critics say the federal EPA shares blame for not reacting more urgently. Susan Hedman, the EPA's Midwest chief and an Obama appointee, resigned in February amid scrutiny for not acting quickly on a memo from agency scientist Miguel Del Toral in June 2015 that said tests showed high lead levels in water from Flint homes.

Last week, Flint residents filed a damage claim for $220 million against the EPA alleging that negligence led to injuries of more than 500 people. The complaint cites a Del Toral memo that said it would border on criminal neglect not to warn Flint residents about lead contamination.

The EPA has said it will look into the complaint.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in February it was joining a criminal investigation with the EPA's Office of the Inspector General and federal prosecutors to explore whether laws were broken by a range of officials.

The EPA, whose budget has been squeezed by Congress, acknowledges there are issues with its lead and copper rule that need to be addressed to prevent similar crises in other cities. The agency will propose changes to the rule early next year.

After Obama declared a state of emergency in January, freeing up to $5 million in funds, officials distributed water filters, clean water and other aid. The White House also expanded access to Medicaid. (Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Leslie Adler)


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