Alleging negligence and fraud in connection with the Flint water crisis, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against a water company and engineering firm hired to provide residents with safe drinking water. Instead of taking responsibility for the increase in lead poisoning throughout Flint, the corporations released statements solely blaming the government for the water crisis.
Agreeing to temporarily switch from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River in April 2014, residents in the city of Flint immediately noticed their tap water appeared cloudy while emitting a pungent odor. After testing the water supply on August 14, 2014, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) discovered the water tested positive for fecal coliform bacteria, also known as E. coli. Although the city issued several boil advisories to kill the bacteria, the CDC has found that heating or boiling water only increases the lead concentration in the water.
After a governor-appointed emergency manager switched Flint’s water supply in order to save some money, state officials failed to use anti-corrosives to treat the water, which caused lead from the pipes to contaminate the water. Failing to intervene for nearly a year, the EPA prolonged the disaster by delaying enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).
Hired in 2011 to assess whether the city could use the Flint River as a water source, Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam (LAN) was hired again in 2013 to help the city begin using the Flint River while running the water through a city treatment plant. Between July 2013 and April 2014, LAN “failed to meet its duty of care and competence at a professional standard” by neglecting to implement a corrosion control program, according to Schuette’s lawsuit.
Hired by the city in February 2015 to study the water supply after receiving numerous complaints, Veolia North America reported “no health or safety problem” despite blatant discoloration. Although Veolia did recommend adding corrosion control chemicals into the system due to iron leaching from the pipes, their report made no mention of potential lead contamination.
Shuette’s lawsuit alleges that LAN, Veolia, and their affiliated corporations must be held responsible for “their roles in the events known as the Flint Water Crisis, including the corrosion of lead pipes, the leaching of lead into the water supply, and the lead poisoning of residents. Their acts and omissions constitute professional negligence, fraud, and public nuisance. They violated their legal duties and caused the Flint Water Crisis to occur, continue, and worsen.”
“The company is disappointed that the attorney general has taken this action and will vigorously defend itself against these unwarranted allegations of wrongdoing,” said Veolia in a recent statement. “…Veolia’s engagement with the city was wholly unrelated to the current lead issues. In fact, lead and copper testing were specifically not included in the company’s scope of work because the city represented that it was itself conducting required testing at the time of our analysis.”
“The attorney general specifically referred to a decision not to provide appropriate corrosion control, which resulted in a significant decline in water quality, a decision that was made by the city and the MDEQ, not by LAN,” claimed LAN in a statement on Wednesday. “Contrary to statements by the attorney general, LAN was not hired to operate the plant and had no responsibility for water quality, but, and although LAN was not asked, LAN had regularly advised that corrosion control should be added and that the system needed to be fully tested before going online.”
After launching a criminal investigation earlier this year, Schuette’s office announced felony charges against two MDEQ officials and a city employee involved in the Flint water crisis. Last month, Flint utilities administrator Mike Glasgow pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty and has begun cooperating with prosecutors.
Despite the fact that LAN and Veolia are solely blaming the government for the Flint Water Crisis, Schuette has accused both the public and private sectors of failing the residents of Flint. While the attorney general continues to assign blame, more steps are required to ensure that other communities do not accidentally expose their children to lead contamination from their drinking water.