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    Flint residents' lawsuits, that were previously filed by the federal government, can now move forward. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 April 2019

District Judge Linda Parker deemed that the cases brought by Flint residents against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for “mishandling” and waiting too long to intervene in the 2014 crisis can now move forward. 

A United States (U.S) federal judge ruled that residents of Flint, Michigan who were affected by water contamination have a right to sue the U.S. government.

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On April 18, District Judge Linda Parker deemed that the cases brought by Flint residents against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for “mishandling” and waiting too long to intervene in the 2014 crisis can now move forward. 

“(The court) can today state with certainty that the acts leading to the creation of the Flint Water Crisis, alleged to be rooted in lies, recklessness and profound disrespect have and will continue to produce a heinous impact for the people of Flint,” Parker stated in the ruling.

Several lawsuits, including class-action cases, where 2,959 people were named were filed by the federal government, now with Parker’s ruling, these can once again be processed. The lawsuits allege the Federal government “negligently responded...by failing to utilize the agency’s enforcement authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to intervene, investigate, obtain compliance, and warn Flint residents of the health risks posed by the water.”

The Flint Water Crisis began in 2014 when the city changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water, sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. However, city officials failed to apply corrosion inhibitors to the water pipes, which resulted in lead contamination, exposing over 100,000 residents to elevated and dangerous lead levels.

On January 5, 2016, the city was declared to be in a state of emergency by then-Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, before former President Barack Obama declared it to be in a federal state of emergency, authorizing additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security less than two weeks later.

The crisis caused dozens of deaths and health problems for adults and mainly children, which prompted several lawsuits against the city and several individual state officials. In 2017, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) informed that the lead levels had supposedly fallen below the federal limit, but many residents continued to report discolored water infused with high levels of lead.

Flint Spokeswoman Kristin Moore said that anywhere from 18,000 to 28,000 homes in the city still needed water pipes replaced, and the process would last until  2019. Meanwhile, citizens, whose ethnic composition is mainly Black (54%), were obliged to buy water from private companies. 

In 2018, this was the cause of another uproar in the four-year struggle, as the state’s government approved a permit that allowed Nestle to pump an extra 576,000 gallons of fresh water for free from the nearby White Pine Springs Well. While at the same time, it was announced a few days later, that city residents would no longer receive free bottled water from the state.

Instead, affected residents have to pay some of the steepest tap water prices in the country at around US$200 per month for water they still aren’t completely sure is safe to drink. In comparison, the transnational company, Nestle pays around the same amount per year to pump almost 100,000 times the amount of water that the average Michigan resident uses.

"Out of 81,862 comments filed by the people of our state, only 75 of them were in favor of the permit," exposed Senator Rebekah Warren (D) yet the MDEQ said it could not base its decision on public opinion. Fast forward to April 2019, with Judge Parker’s ruling at least some justice will be served for the people of Flint. 

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