Judge determines Flint residents can sue US government for water crisis

“The EPA was well aware that the Flint River was highly corrosive and posed a significant danger of lead leaching” into residents’ homes.

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Image Credit: Jake May/AP

A federal judge recently determined that residents of Flint, Michigan have the right to file lawsuits against the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to immediately intervene on their behalf. Although U.S. Judge Linda Parker stated that the EPA was aware of the lead from corrosive pipes and that Michigan regulators were lying to Flint residents, Judge Parker did not rule on the EPA’s negligence.

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. In addition to lead contamination, increased cases of Legionellosis (Legionnaire’s disease) also spread throughout the population.

In December 2016, two former emergency managers were charged with committing conspiracy, misconduct, neglect, and false pretenses, while Flint’s former Utilities Director and the Director of the Department of Public Works have both been charged with conspiracy and false pretenses. In June 2017, several state officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their participation in the Flint water crisis and the death of an 85-year-old resident.

After several lawsuits have accused the EPA of negligence, Judge Parker wrote on Thursday, “The EPA was well aware that the Flint River was highly corrosive and posed a significant danger of lead leaching” into residents’ homes. Parker added that the EPA also knew the health risks posed by lead exposure and that Flint officials “were not warning Flint’s residents that they were being supplied lead-laced water. Quite to the contrary, the EPA learned that State and local officials were misleading residents to believe that there was nothing wrong with the water supply.”

The EPA has declined to comment on Judge Parker’s ruling.

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