Updated at 3:12 ET:
Six current and former Michigan and Flint officials were criminally charged on Wednesday for their roles in the city's water crisis that was linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that caused at least 12 deaths, the state's attorney general said.
Five of the officials, including Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, were charged with involuntary manslaughter stemming from their roles in handling the crisis, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement.
Involuntary manslaughter is a felony that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Another official, Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells, was charged with lying to a police officer and obstruction of justice.
The crisis was linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area. This disease is known to thrive in warm water and infect the lungs.
In 2014, Flint began pumping water from the Flint River into the homes of Flint’s nearly 100,000 residents. Officials have admitted to not properly treating the water with appropriate corrosion measures, resulting in undrinkable lead-poisoned water.
The lead poisoning in Flint water system has led to 12 deaths.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a series of tests with children under 6 in Flint before, during, and after the switch to the Flint River water source. They concluded that blood lead in these children levels were significantly higher after the switch.
The population of Flint is 57 percent black, according to the U.S. Census, with 40 percent of the residents living below the poverty line. Because of this, many have claimed that this water contamination crisis was a case of environmental racism, questioning whether this would have happened if Flint was a majority white town.
Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, said this when the crisis first came to light last year:
We all know instinctively that if an issue of water quality came up in a mostly white, mostly affluent suburb anywhere in this country, it would be dealt with swiftly and decisively. But we now know that was not the result for the majority black and poor population of Flint. This contrast is a fundamental moral issue. The fact that we all on some level know these facts and many white Americans tacitly accept them, must become unacceptable to all of us. The issues that gave rise to this particular crisis may be complicated, but this simple truth is not.
Reuters reporting contributed to this story