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Contaminated Water, Price Hike in Lead Treatment Drugs Prompt EPA Civil Rights Investigation

A Pastor holds up a bottle of Flint water during protest in Lansing, Michigan. Photo by Jake May/The Flint Journal

A pastor holds up a bottle of Flint water during a protest in Lansing, Michigan earlier this year. Photo by Jake May/The Flint Journal

Amid mounting pressure from Flint residents and civil rights advocates, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally begun its investigation into whether Michigan’s state and local officials discriminated against residents in decisions that resulted in the city’s contaminated water supply.

According to Bloomberg’s Bureau of National Affairs, the federal agency is examining whether Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, Genesee County and the city of Flint had discriminatory intent based on race, color, nation of origin or disability in its failure to notify residents of their contaminated tap water.

The EPA will also investigate if government officials declined to put procedures in place that complied with non-discrimination requirements, the news site reports.

Flint’s water crisis has all but disappeared from news headlines, but residents in the affected city are still forced to boil their water and rely on bottled water to cook, drink and bathe. The city also recently suffered a shigellosis outbreak — an infectious bacterial disease spread from residents’ fear of washing their hands with the contaminated water.

Per Bloomberg BNA, the EPA accepted a formal complaint regarding Flint’s water on Aug. 23 of this year. The agency will examine the crippling water crisis under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which outlaws entities that receive federal funding from discriminating based on one’s race, color or national origin. Critics have slammed the EPA’s Title VI program, arguing that it hasn’t done enough to enforce civil rights law.

On top of the civil rights investigation, a Flint congressman is calling for a probe into the sudden price hike in medicines that treat lead poisoning.

According to MLive, Rep. Dan Kildee penned a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday asking that they launch an investigation into Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the company that reportedly raised the price of lead treatment drug Calcium Disodium Versenate in the wake of the water crisis. Lead poisoning, Legionnaires’s disease, hair loss and rashes were just some of the health issues Flint residents experienced after prolonged exposure to the contaminated water.

“Recently, Valeant Pharmaceuticals increased the price of Calcium Disodium EDTA, used to treat acute lead poisoning, from $900 to $27,000 per treatment,” Kildee wrote. “This is a 3,000 percent increase. Thus, I am asking your respective committees to investigate this shocking price increase.”

The pharmaceutical company has since denied claims that it hiked the price of medications to exploit residents with lead poisoning. In fact, the company claimed their drugs would do little to treat those afflicted.

“Contrary to recent statements and media reports linking this product to the Flint water crisis, CDV is not used to treat elevated levels of lead in the blood that result from the chronic low-level lead exposure like that reportedly experienced in Flint, Michigan,” Valeant Pharmaceuticals said in a statement earlier this month.

“With respect to concerns about the list price of CDV, past price actions enabled the provision of consistent supply of a product with high carrying costs and very limited purchase volume of 200-300 units per year,” the company continued in regard to the price of the drug. “The list price of CDV does not reflect the actual cost of the product to hospitals that purchase it, after rebates and other adjustments.”

Per MLive, the pharmaceutical company said it has since been in contact with Kildee concerning the price hike.

Last week, a federal judge recently ruled that Flint residents could sue state officials for their negligence and decisions that led to the water crisis.

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