FLINT. January 27, 2016 – A coalition of local citizens and national groups filed suit today to ask a federal court to step in and 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 ACLU of Michigan, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Flint resident Melissa Mays.
“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.”
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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.
“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.
Nearly 40 percent of the city’s residents, most of whom are African American, live in poverty
“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, co-founder of Concerned Pastors for Social Action.
“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, 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, for which there is no safe level. In the past two years, the blood lead levels of children in Flint have 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 government fails to protect their drinking water. These provisions make the suit announced today different from the class-action suits that have been announced previously.