A new federal lawsuit is seeking the replacement of water pipes in Flint at no cost to residents after claims city and state leaders violated federal laws designed to ensure safe drinking water.
The suit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit by Flint resident Melissa Mays, the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the ACLU of Michigan and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Water is a right, and people ought to take that right seriously,” the Rev. Allen Overton of the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, which represents about 50 Flint area ministers, told EBONY.com. “People should be concerned that their water system can be poisoned at any time. The justice for one is a justice for all, and we have to stand up and fight against this problem.”
The lawsuit asks a federal court to order Flint and Michigan officials to follow federal requirements for testing and treating water to control for lead. Mays and the organizations are seeking relief to remedy the harmful impact of lead contamination to Flint residents, including thousands of children who tested positive for lead poisoning, which can cause permanent brain damage in children. The suit is not seeking monetary damages.
“The water in Flint is still not safe to drink because city and state officials are violating the federal law that protects drinking water, Dimple Chaudhary, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “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.”
Flint’s man-made water disaster began in 2014 when an emergency manager appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder overruled city officials’ decision to remain on the Detroit water system to save $2 million a year. Consequently, the city’s water source was switched to the Flint River, which was highly polluted after decades of being pumped with industrial chemicals, a legacy of General Motors birthplace and the once-booming manufacturing town.
Factories shut down and half the population left in the city 68 miles north of Detroit, leaving behind about 100,000 residents who are about 57 percent black with 42 percent living below the poverty line.
The untreated, corrosive Flint River water leached lead from the city’s pipes, shooting lead into the water and people’s homes.
Shortly after the water supply was changed, a General Motors plant that builds engines for Cadillacs and other models stopped using the water because it reported corroding auto parts. Although Flint residents complained about the yellow, brown, and red smelly water, officials continued assuring them the water was safe despite their rashes, shedding hair and unexplained illnesses.
In March, the Flint city council voted to restore the water supply from Detroit after experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned them that state testing may be improperly calculating lead levels. The emergency manager, Darnell Earley, now new emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools, vetoed the vote and continued using Flint River water.
The water was switched back to Detroit’s system in October, and the governor declared a state of emergency for Flint and Genesee County in mid-January because of the contaminated water. The emergency declaration coincided with the day the US. Attorney’s Office confirmed its investigation of the water’s contamination, and was criticized as long overdue.
A preliminary report from a Snyder-appointed task force placed most blame for the crisis on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The agency’s Director Dan Wyant resigned Dec. 29. Snyder also turned over emails related to the water crisis, but whether he actually released all emails have come into question.
During a Detroit visit earlier this month, President Obama said, “I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk.” He called the situation a reminder “of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people.”
Meanwhile, thousands of cases water and millions of dollars are pouring into the embattled city to assist with the disaster from large corporations, and artists such as The Game, Aretha Franklin, Kem, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, Sean Combs and Meek Mill. Many notables, among them Civil Rights Activist Jesse Jackson, Consumer Advocate Erin Brockovich, and Flint native and controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, have been vocal on the matter.
“It’s been stressful and mind-boggling,” Overton said of the water crisis, “and it’s a very emotional time not to have clean water in your tap. It’s tough and it’s very difficult.”