August 20, 2020
Settlement helps resolve five-year legal fight over one of nation’s worst public-health emergencies
Five years after the lead-tainted drinking water crisis in Flint, one of the nation’s worst public health emergencies, the state of Michigan has reached a settlement to compensate residents.
On Thursday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the state would pay $600 million to settle civil claims brought by thousands of residents on behalf of children and others. Residents had sued the state, along with the city of Flint, three engineering firms and the Environmental Protection Agency, for their alleged roles in allowing lead levels in the city’s drinking water to rise, starting in 2014.
The settlement, which needs to be approved by a federal judge, would resolve claims against Michigan, the state environmental agency and some former state employees. The other litigation is ongoing.
“Ultimately, by reaching this agreement, I hope we can begin the process of closing one of the most difficult chapters in our state’s history,” Ms. Nessel said. “Flint residents have endured more than most, and to draw out the legal back-and-forth even longer would have achieved nothing but continued hardship.”
The water crisis that hit the city of nearly 100,000 residents in 2015 raised awareness about the hazards of lead in drinking water systems nationwide. Flint’s problems eventually were found to have been created when officials appointed by the state switched the city’s water source as a cost-saving measure in April 2014.
When the city failed to treat the water properly, old pipes running from water mains to homes leached lead into the tap water. Tests eventually showed that the percentage of children citywide with elevated blood lead levels roughly doubled to 4.9% from 2.4% after the city changed its drinking-water source. Many with the highest levels lived in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Under the terms of the settlement, nearly 80% of the funds will go to residents who were under 18 years old during the period between April 25, 2014, and July 31, 2016. That could include 7,500 to 20,000 people, according to a lawyer involved in the settlement. Individual amounts will depend on factors such as previous blood lead levels and how many people participate in the settlement.