Over 1,700 residents of Flint, Mich., are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its mishandling of the crippling water contamination crisis that exposed nearly 100,000 men, women and children to lead poisoning. The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status and $722 million in damages.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan on Monday, Jan. 30, and alleges that the EPA failed to warn residents of the toxic water supply or take the proper and necessary steps to determine that local and state authorities were handling the water crisis, according to Reuters. The suit also accuses the government agency of failing to give vital “advice and technical assistance” to government entities that weren’t in legal compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act.
“This case involves a major failure on all levels of government to protect the health and safety of the public,” the 30-page lawsuit reads. “Local, state and federal agencies and employees, working individually and at times in concert with each other, mismanaged this environmental catastrophe.”
Michael Pitt, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told The Detroit News that the $722.4-million claim is a cumulative amount representing total damages claimed for a number of property and health issues.
“We have people … they all have some type of injury, whether it’s a personal injury or a property damage claim, from lead poisoning to having their lives disrupted,” Pitt said.
The Flint water crisis began in April 2013 after local officials, in an effort to cut back on costs, switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the highly contaminated Flint River. The river’s corrosive water ate away at the protective coating on the city’s aged lead pipes, causing the toxic metal to leach into the water supply. It was months before state and federal officials alerted residents to the contamination crisis.
Fast forward two years and Flint residents are still forced to rely on bottled water and home water filters for daily tasks such as cooking and bathing. Last week, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality announced that the city’s lead levels were below the allowed federal limit, but residents weren’t buying it, as department officials advised them to continue using filtered water.
“If it’s been years and I still can’t drink or use the water, then what progress is that?” Tonya Blooming, a Flint resident and mother of three, asked NBC News. “Lead numbers change week to week and I have a feeling there will be another report later on that will negate this one. It’s happened to me before.”
Jan Burgess, the former Flint resident responsible for first alerting the EPA of the city’s water woes, is one of many plaintiffs who said they made repeated calls to the government agency for help, but to no avail. The Detroit News reported that the 64-year-old woman eventually received a response, but it wasn’t one she could comprehend.
“I thought I’d get something more than that,” Burgess said on Monday. “Truthfully, I’m not stupid, but I didn’t understand what they were saying to me at all.”
The EPA and Michigan officials have continuously pointed the finger at one another over the mismanagement of the water crisis. Each side has been reluctant to take the blame, but in December, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette moved to bring criminal charges against four former officials for their role in the widespread lead contamination. So far, 13 current and former officials have been charged in connection to the crisis, Reuters reported.
The city of Flint has since switched back to its regular water system.