Flint Lawsuit Demands Federal Intervention for Safe Water

The suit demands all lead pipes be replaced, but Gov. Rick Snyder says that's not in the cards.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder speaks to the media regarding the status of the Flint water crisis as Michigan Press Secretary Dave Murray watches on Jan. 27 at Flint City Hall in Flint, Michigan. (Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Jan 27, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

As calls grow louder for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s resignation, a new lawsuit filed against city and state officials by a group of environmental, religious, and civil rights activists asked for federal intervention on Wednesday morning. At its core, the suit argues that state and local government officials violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act by delivering lead-contaminated water to Flint residents after switching the city’s supply in April 2014.

“For years the state told us we were crazy, and that our water was safe, which wasn’t true,” Melissa Mays, a plaintiff in the lawsuit said in a statement. “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.”

The suit was filed on behalf of locals by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the ACLU of Michigan, and Concerned Pastors for Social Action. The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to order state and city officials to replace all the lead pipes in the city at no cost to residents, to follow federal water testing and treatment requirements, and to provide medical relief for residents whose health has suffered as a result of the contamination.

“The damage done to the city’s pipes from the Flint River water means that lead will continue to contaminate the city’s drinking water,” reads the lawsuit. “This contamination poses an ongoing health risk to city residents, especially young children who are most vulnerable to the effects of lead.”

Hours after the suit was filed, Snyder requested $28 million in funding from the state legislature at a press conference and unveiled plans for a new 17-person task force to oversee the process of testing and restoring clean water to Flint, The Detroit News reported. Snyder did not commit to removing any of the 25,000 lead pipes at the press conference, per the lawsuit’s demand.

"It's a lot of work to take out pipes, to redo all the infrastructure," Snyder said. "That's a whole planning process."

Meanwhile, the city of Flint hired environmental engineer Marc Edwards to oversee all water testing, Mayor Karen Weaver announced Wednesday. Edwards was ignored by state officials last year after he determined Flint’s water was toxic, according to emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests filed by NBC News. Edwards began working with a resident to test the water after the city’s supply was moved to the Flint River from Lake Huron in a cost-cutting measure.

The $28 million requested by Snyder, which is expected to be approved in a supplemental budget by the state Senate this week, includes $3 million to be used to pay water bills of residents—who have been asked to pay for water that they fear is poisoning them.

In spite of the public attention finally paid to Flint’s water crisis, residents are still receiving monthly water bills—up to $150 per household. Forty percent of Flint residents live below the federal poverty line.

“If you can’t drink the bad water, you shouldn’t pay for it,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said at a separate press conference this week.