Liam Briones sleeps in a car seat as his father drives around from fire station to fire station gathering water for the week as it stacks around him in the back seat of the car in downtown Flint on Thursday. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

Employees at the state office in Flint, Mich., have been drinking from coolers of purified water since last January — the same month that representatives from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality assured residents the water was safe to drink.

Emails released by liberal group Progress Michigan Thursday include a facility announcement responding to a notice that the city’s water contained levels of trihalomethanes, a chlorine byproduct linked to cancer and other diseases, that violated federal standards for safe drinking water.

“While the City of Flint states that corrective actions are not necessary, [the Department of Technology, Management and Budget] is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near the water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink,” a Jan. 7, 2015 email from state facilities management said.

It concluded: “The coolers will arrive today and will be provided as long as the public water does not meet treatment requirements.”

During this time, both city and state officials were denying that Flint’s water was dangerous.

A notice from the city last January cautioned those with “a severely compromised immune system, [who] have an infant or are elderly” to seek medical advice about the drinking water, but said there was otherwise no need to take action.

District engineer Mike Prysby echoed this guidance at a city hall meeting a few weeks later, when he, alongside EPA representatives and a Michigan State University microbiologist, attributed the water’s discoloration to iron and calcium — not lead — from old city pipes.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Prysby said there were only health concerns among the young, elderly and ill if they ingested trihalomethanes over a long period of time: “We’re talking decades,” he said.

But emails between state employees that same month suggest that they were personally worried about the water quality.

“Appears certain state departments are concerned with Flint’s WQ [water quality],” Prysby wrote on Jan. 9, 2015.

“It appears the state wasn’t as slow as we first thought in responding [to] the Flint Water Crisis,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement. “While residents were being told to relax and not worry about the water, the Snyder administration was taking steps to limit exposure in its own building.”

David Murray, press secretary for Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, told The Washington Post that one water cooler was stationed beside the drinking fountains on each floor of the Flint State Office Building “to provide an option for the building tenants.”

“As we know now, there was a failure at all levels of government regarding Flint water,” Murray wrote in an email Thursday evening. “Once Gov. Snyder became aware of the lead problems, he responded aggressively.”

On Feb. 3, 2015, the governor granted the city $2 million to help with water system infrastructure improvements, such as finding leaks and replacing the waste water incinerator. However, Snyder’s administration did not officially acknowledge the water was unsafe until last October, nine months after state employees in Flint were given the choice to drink from water coolers.

The emails are the latest in a series of revelations indicating that governmental officials have long been aware of Flint’s lead-poisoned water, which has ballooned into a public health emergency. Problems began to arise after the city switched its water source from the Detroit system to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure in April 2014.

Almost immediately, residents complained of discolored water that gave off a bad odor. Last fall, studies conducted by the local Hurley Medical Center and later by the state found that lead levels in the blood of Flint children younger than 5 had nearly doubled since the city began tapping from the Flint River.

While the city has since made the switch back to the Detroit system, concerns persist over the long term effects of lead poisoning in children’s mental and behavioral development, with lawmakers calling for increased support for special education and juvenile corrections programs.

Earlier this month, President Obama approved Gov. Snyder’s request for federal aid to deal with the crisis.

More of The Post’s coverage on the water crisis in Flint, Mich.: 

In Flint, Mich., there’s so much lead in children’s blood that a state of emergency is declared

New crisis for Flint residents: Cost of home damage caused by city water

National Guard called in to hand out water in Flint, Mich.