It all began nearly five years ago when the Michigan state government decided it was a good idea to switch the city of Flint’s water supply from the fresh water of Lake Huron to Flint River, even though it was widely known that Flint River had been full of industrial waste for years. When the city’s residents began to complain of oddly colored water coming out of the tap, that state government reassured them that the water was safe to drink. As a result of water testing, many months after the first complaints by city residents, on December 14, 2015, Flint Michigan, it was declared, was in a state of emergency.
The NAACP, the ACLU, and numerous attorneys representing Flint residents whose children had been exposed to lead poisoning, filed a class action suit against Michigan government officials, including the governor, who had originally been dismissed from that class action suit.
In January 2019, a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that the city of Flint is not, it turns out, immune from federal lawsuits due to water contamination, regardless of whether the city was under a state of emergency or not.
The judge in the case, Richard Griffin, stated, “The crisis was predictable and preventable,” and writing for the majority opinion further stated, “government experiments on unknowing and unwilling patients.” Attorneys for one of the Flint Plaintiffs noted that decision could be “game-changing” for a separate class-action lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court.
Thus far, the state of Michigan has brought charges, including involuntary
manslaughter, against 15 state and Flint city officials. The involuntary manslaughter charges pertained to the Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak that arose out of the infected water supply where nearly 80 people were sickened and 12 people died.
While defendants’ attorneys argued that the Flint water crisis was a series of mistakes rather than a set of premeditated actions, residents of Flint, nonetheless, to this day, do not have confidence to drink or bathe in their city’s water. Chances are good that the effects of Flint’s lead exposure will not be realized for many more years, but a September 2015 study showed that the number of Flint children with high levels of lead in their systems doubled after this lead exposure. And, there are studies that indicate fertility was adversely affected. Lead poisoning can cause malfunctions in the liver, the brain and the kidneys; and may cause cognitive deficits and antisocial behaviors, both contributing to lower academic performance.