Over 1,700 Flint residents have filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The class action lawsuit accuses Flint officials of negligently mismanaging the city’s water crisis. The lawsuit comes just as President Trump plans to eviscerate the budget of the EPA. The plaintiff class filed suit in U.S. District Court in Michigan.
The water crisis originated in 2014 after the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River and failed to ensure that corrosion inhibitors were used to stop leaching into Flint’s pipes. The crisis has resulted in a large number of lawsuits that could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. According to experts, the only “deep pocket” near Flint is the State of Michigan. The crisis could therefore become a tax liability for Michigan citizens. According to a report published by the Senate Fiscal Agency, the state of Michigan paid roughly $41.8 million in verdicts and settlements in the last fiscal year.
Last January, Flint residents filed a class action against the state of Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder, the city of Flint, and Flint’s former financial manager and public works director. The plaintiffs were joined by the ACLU of Michigan and the National Resources Defense Council. They claimed that officials knew of the dangerous situation but took no steps to protect the public.
The recent class action specifically accuses the EPA of failing to monitor city officials who permitted frightening levels of toxic lead to enter the city’s drinking water supply. The federal agency is tasked with aiding city officials in dealing with environmental toxins. If the EPA decides city officials have not taken sufficient action in the face of an environmental crisis, it is legally required to take emergency action. Yet, despite knowing about the dangerous state of Flint’s water supply in 2014, the EPA did not take action until 2016.
Last week, state officials indicated that Flint’s drinking water had fallen below federal limits but encouraged residents to use filtered water and assured residents the city’s lead pipes are being replaced. Adding insult to injury, starting on the first of this month, Flint residents had to bear the full cost of their water; it was no longer subsidized by the state. Mayor Karen Weaver was caught off guard, indicating that Michigan officials promised her the payments would continue through March 31. She wanted to see state subsidies continue until the water was drinkable without a filter.
Weaver has told the EPA that more corrosion control studies have to be conducted, and Flint will need more than two years before the city can begin to supply its own water. Extensive chemical mixing and filtration is needed at the city’s water treatment plant. The city is expected to switch to a regional pipeline late next year and treat the water itself.
The current suit alleges that as of November 2016, the drinking water supply in Flint has remained unsafe. Flint residents have not only avoided drinking water, but also they are afraid to cook with or bathe in the water. The most alarming potential result of the contaminated water is neurological damage to children’s brains. The lawsuit seeks over $700 million in damages for loss of property values and various health issues, including dermatological disorders, hair loss, and gastrointestinal disorders. These issues have resulted in a loss of quality of life and emotional distress.
Helping the plaintiffs’ case is the fact that several city officials have already publicly admitted fault or been charged with crimes related to the crisis. The judge could award up to a billion dollars in damages, which could take a big chunk of the EPA’s budget. The plaintiffs’ attorney believes this would send a powerful message to the federal agency.
Several other cities now have their own water crises. A 2016 report indicated that nearly 3,000 cities and towns nationally have water lead levels as high as Flint’s, if not higher. This month, Pittsburgh residents were advised to boil their tap water before using it, due to concerns regarding chlorination. A recent poll indicated that over 60% of Americans would like the EPA’s authority to be strengthened.
The EPA has not commented on the recent lawsuit.
The personal injury attorneys at the Neumann Law Group represent injured people 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.
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