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Michigan settles Flint lead water crisis, assures nearly $600M going to affected children

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Flint Water Treatment Plant sign
While construction got underway for a new pipeline, the Lead Water Crisis emerged when officials temporarily changed the city’s water supply to the Flint River, which led to reports of odd colour, smell and taste from the water source. Photo credit: Atomazul, Adobe Stock.

A new $600-million preliminary civil settlement announced in Flint, Michigan, will see the state pay some 80% of the money to children who were under 18 at the time of the lead-tainted tap water crisis.

Among the many civil lawsuits merged in the settlement was a class-action lawsuit that alleged the state wasn’t treating its water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. Now, injuries from lead exposure will be assessed on a case by case basis, with the most damaged receiving the most compensation, according to the settlement. The settlement, to be paid by the state of Michigan, also sets aside money for adult victims as well as property damage, business relief and programmatic needs.

All owners and renters of residential property in Flint who received Flint water between April 25, 2014 and July 31, 2016 will be eligible to recover property related compensation.

Problems began for the city of nearly 100,000 in 2014 through an attempt to reduce a substantial deficit in Flint’s water finances. Officials sought to switch its water supplier from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority. A new pipeline was under construction to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint. But while construction got underway, the crisis emerged when officials temporarily changed the city’s water supply to the Flint River, which led to reports of odd colour, smell and taste from the water source.

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Tests in 2015 conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Tech indicated dangerous levels of lead in the water at residents’ homes.

“During a time when politics have created divisiveness in our communities, this settlement was ably accomplished with a legislature and governor from different political parties who ultimately chose the welfare of children over politics,” announced attorney Corey Stern, partner at Levy Konigsberg, LLP, who was appointed lead counsel on the Flint Water Crisis case in November 2017.

State officials have estimated that as many as 9,000 children under the age of six in Flint have been treated following exposure to high levels of lead from the city’s drinking water. Lead consumption can affect the heart, kidneys and nerves. In children, lead exposure is linked to cognitive issues, behavioral disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty.

Flint Water Settlement Video

The City of Flint has now completed 90% of its municipal service water line replacements, with a final completion date of November 30. Water lines have been excavated at almost 26,000 households. After those excavations, approximately 9,700 lead or galvanized steel service lines were replaced. About 2,500 water lines still require inspection, and residents must consent to having their pipes replaced by September 18 to guarantee free replacement under the City’s Get the Lead Out program.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced last week that the settlement has been agreed to by the state parties and the plaintiffs’ legal counsel following more than 18 months of negotiations. Additional defendants named in plaintiffs’ lawsuits have not signed on to the settlement agreement. Included among those entities are the engineering consultants, Veolia North America and Lockwood, and Newnam & Andrews, who are also being sued by the Attorney General for their roles.

“We urge all defendants to step up and take responsibility like the state of Michigan has done,” announced Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley in a statement. “This settlement will be an important step forward for our community. For years, we were victims — our voices and concerns ignored as lead continued to leech into our water. However, our community is resilient and we have persevered. Moving forward, with our strong spirit intact, we will be known as a community of victors,” Neeley added.

The state’s 2020 budget included $120 million to clean up drinking water through investments in water infrastructure.

Complete details will be made available once the formal settlement is completed, which is expected within about 45 days. The settlement will establish a court-monitored victims compensation fund that will provide direct payments to Flint residents.

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