Groups file federal lawsuit to secure safe drinking water in Flint

Jan. 27, 2016
Concerned Pastors for Social Action, Melissa Mays, ACLU of Michigan, and NRDC ask court to intervene

FLINT, Mich. Jan. 27, 2016 -- A coalition of local citizens and national groups filed suit today seeking federal court intervention to secure access to safe drinking water for the people of Flint, Michigan.

Alleging violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the ACLU of Michigan, Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Flint resident Melissa Mays.

“The water in Flint is still not safe to drink because City and State officials are violating the federal law that protects drinking water. In doing so, they are exposing the people of Flint to lead, a powerful toxin that can be devastating to young children. We are asking a federal court to step in because the people of Flint simply cannot rely on the same government agencies that oversaw the destruction of its infrastructure and contamination of its water to address this crisis,” said Dimple Chaudhary, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The lawsuit asks a federal court to compel the City and state officials to follow federal requirements for testing and treating water to control for lead and to order the prompt replacement of all lead water pipes at no cost to Flint residents. The groups and Ms. Mays also seek appropriate relief to remedy the health and medical harms to Flint residents from the lead contamination. The lawsuit is not seeking monetary damages.

“Everyone in this country deserves and expects safe drinking water, regardless of your race, economic status or zip code. The residents of Flint were stripped of their democratically elected authority and, in the name of saving a few dollars, have been forced to sacrifice their health in the process. This community deserves accountability, transparency, and justice, in addition to water that is safe to drink,” said Pastor Allen Overton of Concerned Pastors for Social Action.

Nearly forty percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, most of whom are African American.

“Flint is Exhibit A for what happens when a state suspends democracy and installs unaccountable bean counters to run a city,” said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan. “In a failed attempt to save a few bucks, state-appointed officials poisoned the drinking water of an important American city, causing permanent damage to an entire generation of its children. The people of Flint cannot trust the state of Michigan to fix this man-made disaster and that is why court oversight is critically needed.”

“I joined this lawsuit because I no longer believe the City of Flint and the State of Michigan can solve Flint’s water crisis and return safe drinking water to our homes. For years the state told us we were crazy, and that our water was safe, which wasn’t true. For the sake of my kids and the people of Flint, we need a federal court to fix Flint’s water problems because these city and state agencies failed us on their own,” said Melissa Mays of Water You Fighting For, a Flint-based organization.

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act directs water systems to test their drinking water for harmful contaminants and to treat the water to control for those contaminants. The City and State’s disregard for the federal law has exposed the people of Flint to lead. There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. In the past two years, the percentage of children in Flint with elevated blood lead levels has doubled and in some cases tripled.

Not until residents elevated public awareness and helped bring national attention on Flint did government officials belatedly acknowledge a problem, and to date, the problems in Flint have not been fixed. The damage done to the city’s pipes from Flint River water means that lead will continue to contaminate the city’s drinking water until city and state officials stop violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Safe Drinking Water Act allows for citizens to sue when the government fails follow federal rules designed to protect their drinking water. The suit announced today seeks a forward-looking fix to Flint’s lead-contamination crisis, making it different from the class action suits that have been announced previously that seek damages for harms already suffered by Flint residents.

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