Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan: Should They Sue?

Flint, MI, once a thriving town, began its economic decline in the 1980’s after General Motors began cutting jobs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Flint is currently a city of 98,310, where 41.6% of residents live below the poverty line and the median household income is $24,679. The median household income for the rest of Michigan is $49,087. The city is 56.6% African-American.

Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan 

The water in the Flint River has been historically unsafe. Clean-up efforts were ordered in 2001 after a class-action lawsuit containing a study performed by Virginia Tech found the river water to be 19 times more corrosive than water from Detroit, which was from Lake Huron. The state Department of Environmental Quality was not treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law.

The latest water crisis in Flint Michigan began in 2014. In April, the city begins using the Flint River as their water source. In August and September of 2014 the city issues a boil water advisory due to the presence of fecal coliform bacteria in the water supply. The water is treated with high levels of chlorine. As a result, in October, General Motors stops using city water due to concerns about high levels of chlorine corroding engine parts.

water crisis in flint, michigan

Courtesy NBC News

In June, 2015, scientists at Virginia Tech tested tap water from a home containing lead levels as 13,200 ppb. Water contaminated with 5,000 ppb of lead is classified as hazardous waste.

In August 2015, a team at Virginia Tech begins a water quality study. Their preliminary report in September indicates that 40% of Flint homes have elevated lead levels.

Getting Sick
Throughout this crisis, children were tested with high levels of lead in their blood. Health effects of lead exposure can include impaired cognition, behavioral disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty. In pregnant women, lead is associated with reduced fetal growth. In everyone, lead consumption can affect the heart, kidneys and nerves.
Governor Snyder announces an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in the Flint area between June 2014 and November 2015, with 87 cases and 10 deaths.

According to CNN, in April, 2016 criminal charges are filed against government employees Mike Glasgow, Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby. Busch, a district water supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Prysby, a district water engineer, each face six charges. Glasgow, a former laboratory and water quality supervisor who now serves as the city’s utilities administrator, is charged with tampering with evidence, a felony, and willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor. All are on administrative leave.

In July 2016, six current and former state workers are charged as the criminal investigation continues. One of the employees, Liane Shekter-Smith, faces charges of misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty for allegedly misleading the public and concealing evidence of rising lead levels in water. Shekter-Smith is the former chief of the Michigan Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance.

According to the Washington Post, only days after the city served notice that it might file a lawsuit against Michigan over the city’s lead-tainted water crisis; officials stripped Flint’s ability to sue the state. “The board moved quickly following the notice to change the rules under which Flint is governed so that the city couldn’t sue without first getting approval from that board.”

What do you think?
Tainted drinking water made a lot of innocent people sick. In the long run, these cost-cutting measures may end up costing more. Who do you think should be punished for this?