August 20, 2020
The settlement still needs federal court approval, but Flint residents were being cautiously optimistic after the drawn-out crisis: “I just want it to be over.”
Since contaminated water began running from taps in Flint six years ago, perhaps the biggest worry was the lasting effect on the Michigan city’s 25,000 children.
Along with skin rashes and illnesses, some children showed elevated levels of lead in their blood, raising the alarming prospect of irreversible damage to their developing brains. In the schools, requests for special education or behavioral interventions began rising.
As the state of Michigan on Thursday announced a $600 million settlement for the victims of the water crisis that upended Flint, the deal was another reminder of the damage and debt to thousands of children: Almost 80 percent of the settlement will go to people who were younger than 18 during the crisis, the officials said, and much of that will go to those who were younger than 7.
Around Flint, residents said that the settlement, which still needs a federal judge’s approval, felt like the start of hopeful news. Still, after all they have been through, some had lingering doubts. They questioned how long the process of deciding who qualifies for payment may take. And they said they were painfully aware that no amount of money can undo the exposure their children had to tainted water between 2014 and 2016.
“For me, the settlement means we’re going to be OK,” Tiantha Williams said as she helped at a food and water distribution center at the Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. “But it is upsetting that it’s going to take so long because I just want it to be over. You just get to a certain point where you just hate talking about it.”
Ms. Williams, 43, said that her 4-year-old son had experienced developmental delays with speech and toilet training, and that she feared that the water she drank while pregnant might have played a role. He was only 2.6 pounds at birth, she said, and struggled to survive.
The water lines in her home have been replaced, as have the lines in most homes in Flint, officials say. But Ms. Williams, like many people who live in Flint, continues to use bottled water for drinking and cooking. “I just don’t trust the water,” she said.
The water began turning strange colors and smelling odd in 2014, after the city switched residents’ water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The city, home to about 95,000 residents — 40 percent of whom fall below the federal poverty line — had fallen into fiscal distress. While under oversight by a state-appointed emergency manager sent to solve the city’s woes, Flint had switched its water supply to save money.
For months, residents’ complaints of ailments and foul odors were ignored as city and state officials assured people that the water was safe. But officials had failed to add chemicals that slow corrosion to the water, and investigations later found that the Flint River water was leaching lead and other substances from the city’s maze of old pipes into people’s drinking water. Much of the last few years has been spent trying to repair and replace water lines, and to convince residents that the water is now safe.
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