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State workers in Flint got bottled water as crisis brewed

FLINT, Mich. -- Michigan offered fresh bottled water for state employees in Flint starting in January 2015, although residents were told that tap water was safe to drink until last fall, a state official said.

Flint residents are now warned to drink only filtered or bottled water because of lead contamination in the city's supply.

Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for the agency that manages state buildings, said water coolers were introduced at the State Office Building after Flint flunked some drinking water standards that weren't related to lead.

"We have provided it continuously. That was a decision we made as the building owner" in Flint, said Buhs.

Buhs said state employees in Flint can also use drinking fountains.

Progress Michigan, a liberal group critical of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, released state emails Thursday describing how water was being provided to the building.

On Friday, Snyder was asked water being provided to state employees in Flint last year.

"I had no knowledge of that taking place," he said.

Earlier this month, Snyder's office voluntarily made public 273 pages of e-mails and documents related to the water crisis. One email reveals his chief of staff believed Flint's poisoned water - containing elevated lead levels and left residents without easy access to clean water - was not the state's responsibility. That aide also mentioned state health officials who worried that the issue could turn into a "political football."

Water coolers were introduced after Flint officials warned residents about elevated levels of a disinfection byproduct called trihalomethane in the city's water.

Notices from the city at the time said drinking water with excessive amounts of trihalomethanes over many years could cause liver, kidney or central nervous system problems and an increased risk of cancer. The notices, however, described Flint's water as safe to drink.

Flint's water became contaminated when the city, under emergency state management, switched from the Detroit municipal water system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money.