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Michigan officials absent at Flint water crisis hearing
02:25 - Source: CNN

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NEW: U.S. Marshals say Darnell Earley has been served with a subpoena

The state-appointed former Flint emergency manager says he didn't know water was contaminated

Flint's water has been tainted since April 2014, when its supply was switched from Lake Huron

CNN  — 

The former emergency manager for the city of Flint – who was at the helm when polluted water began flowing through the taps – claims he did not know the water was dangerous.

Speaking via his attorney, Darnell Earley said that the decision to switch Flint’s water source (which is blamed for the polluted water) was made before he came on board.

Earley was Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager between 2013 and 2015.

“Nothing came across his desk nor was he ever advised that there was anything wrong with the water or the use of the water,” attorney A. Scott Bolden told CNN Thursday on behalf of his client.

“He was relying on the experts,” Bolden said.

The Flint water crisis has become a national story, and a congressional hearing on the issue was held on Wednesday.

Earley was a no-show at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing. He declined an invitation to attend Monday, then refused to accept a subpoena issued Tuesday night.

At the time, his attorney said the subpoena “border(ed) on nonsensical” because it would have been impossible to appear by Wednesday morning after the subpoena was issued Tuesday evening.

On Thursday, Earley was served with a subpoena, the U.S. Marshals Service said. Committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz has promised another Flint hearing in the coming weeks, and insisted Earley will be there.

Bolden said his client is eager to tell his side of the story.

On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder received an invitation to testify before another congressional hearing on the crisis.

The invitation from the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee is being reviewed, a spokeswoman for Snyder’s office said.

Residents cried foul first

Once a bustling industrial city, Flint has fallen on hard times in recent years. These financial troubles led to the state’s takeover in 2011, when Snyder appointed his first emergency manager. State officials were in charge in April 2014 when Flint’s water supply was switched (as a cost-cutting measure) from Lake Huron (via Detroit’s water system) to the Flint River, despite the fact that river’s water was 19 times more corrosive, according to researchers from Virginia Tech.

It didn’t take long for residents to suspect something was wrong. Water out of Flint taps looked, smelled and tasted funny. Yet officials indicated that nothing was the matter, with then-Flint Mayor Dayne Walling even drinking his city’s tap water on local TV to try to calm concerns.

In fact, something was very wrong.

Chaffetz entered several emails into the record suggesting that EPA officials realized there was a problem from the spring through the summer of 2014, yet did little about it. Snyder has said the EPA and his state’s Department of Environmental Quality “missed” what was happening, and top officials from both agencies – including Susan Hedman, who resigned last month as the EPA’s administrator for the region that includes Flint – have already lost their jobs.

It wasn’t until last September that authorities began to take the issue seriously. A month later, they reversed the earlier decision by switching Flint’s water supply back to Lake Huron.

But by then, in many ways, it was too late.

Flint residents had already drunk tap water tainted with lead that, according to the Mayo Clinic, “can severely affect mental and physical development” in children and can even be fatal at high levels. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, while exposure to lead isn’t good for anyone, “no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”

Since then, the city’s mayor and the state’s governor have declared states of emergency. Federal prosecutors have been working with several agencies to investigate the water contamination. And critics have called for Snyder to resign, accusing his administration and officials he appointed of prioritizing cost cutting over public safety.

Snyder told CNN last week that he’s committed to dealing with the water crisis and won’t step down.

EPA: In latest tests, filters appear to be working

The latest data indicates water filters appear to be working in Flint, federal officials said Thursday, citing recent EPA tests.

Agency official Mark Durno told reporters that levels of lead in tap water in 8 of 10 homes that previously showed high lead levels were either undetectable or extremely low.

But authorities cautioned that the sample size was too small to draw a comprehensive conclusion.

“We were here last week with really concerning news, and it’s great to be able to come back this week with better news,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Last week we were concerned about whether the filters were doing their job. This week’s report suggests that from what we know so far, they are, in fact, doing their job, and the EPA is continuing to test.”

Tests of unfiltered water in the homes also showed the amount of lead is dropping, Durno said. Officials don’t yet know why that’s the case, he said.

CNN’s Greg Botelho and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.