On January 5, Flint, Michigan, declared a state of emergency regarding its contaminated water supply. Representatives from the Michigan National Guard and FEMA were sent to Flint this week to distribute clean water. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the matter.
Last spring, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder decided to cut costs by switching from Detroit’s previous water system to supplying water from the corrosive Flint River. Shortly thereafter, residents began to complain about foul-smelling and visibly contaminated water, and uploaded photographs of the dirty water on social media. Residents also complained of health problems, such as skin rashes. Independent testing by Virginia Tech demonstrated high levels of lead in the water.
Despite these findings and numerous complaints, it took state officials 19 months to respond and switch back the source. Recent evidence suggests that state officials were aware of the enormity of the problem and continued to ignore or downplay it.
Flint residents recently filed a class action lawsuit, claiming that the switch caused them “serious personal injury” given the “extreme toxicity of the water.” The suit for negligence names the state of Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder, the city of Flint, and Flint’s former financial manager and public works director as defendants. Named Plaintiffs Dorris Collins, Jason Phinisee, and Robin Pleasant claim to have suffered injury from ingesting the contaminated water after the state’s “cost-cutting move.” Also joining the plaintiffs are the ACLU of Michigan and the National Resources Defense Council, among others. They claim officials knew of the dangerous situation but took no steps to protect public health.
To make matters worse, Flint residents are still being billed for the contaminated water. The average bills add up to around $140 per month, which is too high for residents still trying to recover their health after contamination. This September, medical researchers in Flint reported that lead contamination in young children had nearly doubled since the change in water source. In some areas, contamination levels tripled. This is particularly troubling given that children under six are most at risk. Even low levels of lead exposure can cause lasting brain damage. One of the report’s authors said it will likely take at least 10 years before any serious, possibly deadly, health consequences surface. The researchers recommend that the city stop using Flint water “as soon as possible.”
At a recent press conference in Flint, Governor Snyder told residents where they could get clean water, home testing kits, and filters, and promised officials would test water in schools and daycare centers. But he was vague regarding the state’s next steps, aside from claiming it was seeking federal assistance from FEMA. A national expert on municipal water estimates that correcting the damage to Flint’s water system will cost between $20 million and $300 million. The city estimates the cost of replacing the system will be around $1.5 billion.
Personal injury lawyer Kelly Neumann at the Neumann Law Group represents accident victims throughout Michigan from offices in Traverse City and Grand Rapids. Call us at (231) 463-0122 or at (616) 717-5666 for a free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Wife Sues Midland County for Wrongful Death Following Jail Incident, Michigan Injury Lawyer Blog, January 11, 2016.
Michigan Court of Appeals Strengthens Rights of Medical Providers Under No-Fault Act, Michigan Injury Lawyer Blog, January 4, 2016.