The scale of government neglect in the water crisis in Flint, Mich., could place the city alongside some of the most infamous environmental disasters in U.S. history, from New York’s Love Canal to the Hinkley, Calif., saga of Erin Brockovich fame.

Local, state and federal officials — including the top Environmental Protection Agency administrator in the Midwest and Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder — are accused of ignoring, denying or covering up problems that left thousands of children exposed to toxic lead in their drinking water for about 18 months.

“Nobody was owning the problem, not the [state Department of Environmental Quality], not the EPA, not the governor’s office,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which revealed that damning passages had been removed from a government specialist’s report on Flint’s water contamination.

The debacle ranks among the worst on numbers alone, said Paul Mohai, who studies environmental-justice issues at the University of Michigan. With a community of 100,000 people, largely poor and minority, unable to drink from their taps, Flint is “one of the biggest environmental justice disasters I know” — and perhaps unprecedented, Mohai said Friday.

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