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Michigan governor fires back at Democrats on Flint criticism

Staff Sgt. William Phillips, with the Michigan National Guard, assists a resident at a water distribution center Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, at a fire station in Flint, Mich. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder activated the National Guard late Tuesday to help deliver water to residents dealing with a drinking water crisis that began months ago.

AP Photo/Mike Householder

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was quick to react to the criticism leveled at him by Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at Sunday's Democratic debate.

During the closing remarks in the debate, both attacked Snyder over the lead-tainted drinking water in Flint, Michigan

Clinton said she was "outraged" all week at what was happening.

"Let me tell you what if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it there would have been action," she said, suggesting that Flint was ignored because its residents are mostly African American and poor.

At the debate and on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday morning, Clinton suggested that her public criticism of Snyder earlier this week spurred him to request federal help dealing with the crisis.

Sanders, in turn, repeated his call for Snyder to resign because of how he has handled the situation.

"A man who acts that irresponsibly should not stay in power," he said.

Flint residents also the State Capitol last week to call for Snyder's resignation.

The city began experiencing problems in spring of 2014 after switching its water supply to the Flint River to save money. The corrosive water stripped lead from pipes, elevating levels in drinking and bathing water. The city's children were found to have high levels of lead in their blood, and city officials declared a public health emergency in October.

But state officials knew about the lead problem earlier. An internal state health study from July found high lead levels in Flint children after the 2014 water switch. However, residents weren't notified of the problem until two months later and continued to drink the contaminated water.

Although the city switched back to Detroit's water system, officials are concerned that the damage to the pipes means they will continue leaching lead into the water.

Snyder activated the Michigan National Guard last week to help hand out bottled water and other supplies. President Obama also signed an emergency declaration Saturday that will authorize FEMA to provide water, filters, cartridges and other items to the city for 90 days.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.