Flint residents file lawsuit against in city's water crisis

Residents file $772M lawsuit, alleges EPA failed to properly manage lead-contaminated water, issue timely emergency order.

Jan 31st, 2017
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DETROIT, JANUARY 31, 2017 -- A group of more than 1,700 Flint residents have filed a $772 million lawsuit against the U.S. Government for the negligence of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its failure to prevent the public health catastrophe known world-wide as the "Flint Water Crisis" from occurring. The 37-page complaint was filed here today in U.S. District Court by Jan Burgess and 1,706 other Flint residents.

The lawsuit seeks a judgement against the EPA for damages incurred by Burgess and the other plaintiffs in the amount of $772.4 million or more. It alleges the EPA's failure to act on a timely basis led to massive injuries to the plaintiffs, including lead poisoning, dermatological problems, loss of hair, gastrointestinal disorders, emotional distress, damage to real estate and personal property and loss of property values.

"Residents of the City of Flint have the right to hold the EPA accountable when it has failed to do its job," said Burgess, a retired public employee. "Like many other residents, I continue to suffer from various health issues. My plumbing is damaged, my house continues to lose value and the water still isn't safe to drink. The problems in Flint are not solved."

According to the complaint, "Despite notice of the danger as early as October 2014, the EPA failed to determine that Michigan and Flint authorities were not taking appropriate action to protect the public from toxic water and failed to file the emergency action required."

"…the EPA is required to provide advice and technical assistance to states or local providers which are not in compliance with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and if compliance is not achieved in 30 days, the EPA is required to issue or commence a civil action to obtain compliance. The EPA took none of those mandatory steps. The failure to fulfill these mandatory duties constitute violations of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA)."

"The EPA played a major role in creating and prolonging the Flint water crisis by turning a blind eye to the warning signs that a public health crisis of enormous dimensions was emerging," said Michael Pitt, an attorney with the legal team representing Flint residents in the case.

Pitt said that Burgess had lodged numerous complaints with the EPA regarding the quality of Flint's drinking water. In her first report sent to the EPA on October 14, 2014, the complaint describes how Burgess noted that on some days the water "…smells like an over-chlorinated swimming pool; other days, like pond scum. It is often brown in color and frequently has visible particles floating in it…Calls to the city and state have resulted in no action whatsoever."

The lawsuit details the chronology of events and cites numerous e-mail communications between EPA and MDEQ officials: federal officials should have realized that the responsible Michigan officials were unwilling or unable to handle the developing environmental disaster.

The subpoenaed e-mails also show that EPA officials waited weeks to take a position or act, instead debating amongst themselves over the scope of the problem and the agency's role. While the EPA and MDEQ officials debated what to do, the people of Flint were told that it was safe to drink the water which we now know was poisoned.

In addition, the lawsuit points to EPA's slow response to agency researcher Miguel Del Toro's June 2015 internal memo strongly recommending that Flint residents be warned of high lead levels in the water.

The lawsuit also notes that an October 2016 report issued by the EPA Office of Inspector General concludes that the EPA had the authority and sufficient information to issue an emergency order to protect Flint residents in June 2015. The EPA didn't announce the emergency order until January 21, 2016, over seven months later.

The complaint charges that the U.S. Government is liable for the EPA's mishandling of the Flint water crisis. This includes: 1) EPA's failure to take mandatory actions required by the Safe Drinking Water Act; 2) negligence in its performance of undertaking regarding timely investigations; and 3) negligence in undertaking its duty to warn the public of environmental risks to its health.

"This is the fourth part of the Mays vs. Snyder class action begun last year," said Pitt. "It's the continuation of an historic community effort by Flint residents who have banded together to hold the federal government accountable for this ongoing disaster."

Read more at FlintWaterClassAction.com.

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