CYNTHIA M. LINDSEY & ASSOCIATES, PLLC
Flint Michigan is faced with a water crisis disaster of major proportions affecting residents at all levels since 2013-2014. Flint’s population is over 100,000 with a significant number of poor and elderly residents. Numerous legal efforts are underway with a significant head start. The background of this disaster is as follows:
To save money, on or about April 25, 2014, the City of Flint switched their water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River) to the Flint River. This switch resulted in contaminated drinking water, in part, because corrosive inhibitors were not added to the water; thus, the lead from the city’s aging pipes leached into the water supply and created a public health danger.
Although various city officials and residents reported problems with the water supply, citing discoloration and a strange smell and taste, no steps were immediately taken to correct the problem. Instead, government officials said that the water was safe to drink.
In August and September 2014, city officials found E. coli and coliform bacteria forming in water and issued a boil water advisory. Specifically, the warning informed residents that water contains high levels of trihalomethanes, byproducts of water-disinfectant chemicals and that over time, these byproducts can cause kidney, liver, and nervous system damage. The advisory further warned that sick and elderly people may be at risk, but the water is otherwise safe to consume. The next month, a Flint General Motors plant stopped using Flint’s water when they noticed rust on some of their engine parts.
During 2014 and 2015, a series of additional events, discoveries, investigations, and tests took place and resulted in The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspecting that the source of lead is a lead service line. After a numerous disagreements and arguments among governmental officials, in August 2015, a Virginia Tech University researcher begins a study of Flint’s water quality, and in September 2015, the researcher revealed that corrosiveness of Flint water is causing lead to leach into residents’ water. DEQ disputes his findings; however, a lead advisory was issued by Flint- to use water only from the cold water tap for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. The city also said it is in full compliance with federal safe-drinking laws.
On October 1, 2015 Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Children's Hospital and Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards are credited for forcing Michigan government to acknowledge the water problem, a drink advisory was issued to Flint residents.
It was not until October 2015 that Flint reconnected to the Detroit water source. During the same month, Genesee County Health Department declared a public health emergency and told residents avoid drinking the water.
On December 14, 2015, the newly elected Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declares a state of emergency. The same month, an appointed Task Force reports that DEQ is responsible for the water crisis and DEQ’s director and spokesperson resigned.
On January 4, 2016, Genesee County declared a state of emergency; the state (Governor Snyder) declared a state of emergency on January 5; and President Obama declared a state of emergency on January 17. During Governor Snyder’s January 19, during this speech he addressed the crisis in Flint “first and indepth.”
The United Way of Genesee County estimates that between 6,000 and 12,000 children have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead, which may result in a range of serious health problems for years to come. The contaminated water source has impacted adults as well. In fact, the water is being cited as a possible cause for the rare outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint, with 91 cases recorded over 17 months beginning in June 2014, including 12 deaths, according to the April 18, 2016 Detroit News. Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia — lung inflammation usually caused by infection. The public wasn’t notified about the Legionnaire’s outbreak until January 2015.
In 2016, there has been a series of governmental hearings, continued investigations, task force findings, and a vast and constant array of individuals (high profile and people from throughout the state, country and world), visit Flint to provide input and support. It is reported that on March 6 in Flint, CNN conducted the Democratic Presidential debate involving Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. CNN reports that more than a dozen lawsuits, including several class-action suits, have been filed in state, county and federal courts in Michigan.