(The AEGIS Alliance) – FLINT, MICHIGAN – Last Thursday, officials in Michigan announced they’ve agreed to pay $600 million to residents of Flint whose health was impacted by drinking water tainted with lead. The Flint water crisis resulted in a class-action lawsuit and revealed how poorer, majority-Black communities can suffer when the government mismanages itself.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office and Attorney General Dana Nessel said negotiations were ongoing for more than 18 months with attorneys representing thousands of Flint residents who’ve filed lawsuits against the state of Michigan as the scandal awoke, which started in April 2014.
Governor Whitmer, who is a Democrat and came into office last year, gave a statement and said the money may still not be enough for some people and “many will still feel justifiable frustration with a system and structure that at times is not adequate to fully address what has happened to people in Flint over the last six years.”
Whitmer mentioned that “healing Flint will take a long time, but our ongoing efforts and today’s settlement announcement are important steps in helping all of us move forward.”
AG Nessel, who is also a Democrat, said the majority of the settlement will go into resolving claims that children will benefit from, who through their testing discovered they had elevated levels of lead in their blood. Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems in young children, according to warnings from health officials.
In the settlement, the state os Michigan is establishing $600 million in funds, and residents of Flint are able to file compensation claims. The amount awarded per applicant is to be based on how badly the person was harmed.
The settlement calls for dedicating 80 percent of the money to persons who were under 18-years-old during the time Flint used river water, AG Nessel said.
AG Nessel said in a statement that “This settlement focuses on the children and the future of Flint, and the State will do all it can to make this a step forward in the healing process for one of Michigan’s most resilient cities.”
“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 and writing a new one that starts with a government that works on behalf of all of its people.”
A former Flint city attorney and resident named Trachelle Young, who filed a 2015 lawsuit in response to the lead in the drinking water, said to reporters the settlement is “fair and reasonable,” but cautioned that it’s a partial solution because she believes “there is more to come and there is more of a price to pay.” There are still other pending lawsuits against Flint, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and private consultants who advised the city on its issues with the water.
“We were fighting a machine,” Young said about Michigan’s previous push back of the lawsuits. “They were standing their ground, and today is the day where there’s actual accountability for Flint residents.”
Flint changed from Detroit’s water system to instead using the Flint River back in 2014. It was part of an effort to cut costs while there was an ongoing emergency financial management in the state. Officials had made estimates that the cash-strapped city would be able to save around $5 million in under two years from the change.
Drawing tap water from Flint River was meant to be a temporary source until the city was able to use a new system that draws water from Lake Huron.
But residents had complaints about the taste, appearance, and smell of the water, while officials held the view that the water met safety requirements.
In the summer of 2015, researchers at Virginia Tech University took samples of Flint water and reported it had abnormally high levels of lead. Not long afterward, a group of doctors made an announcement that children in the area had high levels of lead in their blood demanded that Flint stop using the river water.
Former Governor Rick Snyder acknowledged the issue eventually, and accepted the resignation of his environmental chief and made a pledge to give the city aid, which resumed using water from Detroit.
Flint residents were using bottled water for both drinking and household needs for longer than a year. In late 2016, researchers noted that in many homes, lead was no longer detectable.
U.S. District Judge Judith Levy is overseeing the lawsuits in the state, who would be required to approve of the settlement.
If there is final court approval of the state’s settlement, it would push spending on the Flint water crisis in Michigan to more than $1 billion and is likely to be the biggest settlement in the history of Michigan’s state government, AG Nessel’s office mentioned.
Michigan has already put over $400 million into the water pipe replacements, buying filters and bottled water, healthcare for children, and other assistance needs.
A court-appointed interim co-lead counsel in the class-action lawsuit settlement named Michael Pitt stated the legal team endorses the Flint settlement deal and is hoping that it will be approved by Levy.
“Although it’s not perfect overall, it’s very good and it’s a fair settlement and we believe wholeheartedly it’s in the best interest of the Flint community,” Pitt said to reporters.
Pitt says the claims from residents who were affected would need to be reviewed “without any discrimination, no favoritism” and also have an “opt-out” measure, which means residents don’t need to be part of the compensation plan and will still be able to pursue other legal options against the state of Michigan if they choose to.
The settlement’s other terms and conditions still need to be worked out within a 45-day timeframe, Pitt added, at which point more details about the deal would be made public and claims can start to be filed.
Kyle James Lee – The AEGIS Alliance – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.