FLINT, Michigan, August 23, 2020 (ENS) – The State of Michigan has agreed to a $600 million settlement of civil lawsuits brought against the state by residents of the city of Flint after the source of the city’s water supply was switched from clean Lake Huron to the tainted Flint River on April 25, 2014. The majority of the money will be going to settle claims filed on behalf of children exposed to toxics, said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Nessel announced today that the settlement has been agreed to by the state parties and the plaintiffs’ legal counsel following more than 18 months of negotiations.

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Children race in Flint, Michigan on June 1, 2013, the year before the Flint water switch took place. (Photo by Ryan Litwiller)

“This settlement focuses on the children and the future of Flint, and the state will do all it can to make this a step forward in the healing process for one of Michigan’s most resilient cities,” Nessel said. “Ultimately, by reaching this agreement, I hope we can begin the process of closing one of the most difficult chapters in our state’s history and writing a new one that starts with a government that works on behalf of all of its people.”

The preliminary agreement specifies that about 80 percent of the net settlement fund will be spent on claims of children who were minors when first exposed to the Flint River water, with a large majority of that amount to be paid for claims of children age six and younger, and earmarking two percent to go to special education services in Genesee County.

Another 18 percent of the net settlement funds are to be spent on claims of adults and for property damage. Roughly one percent will go toward claims for business losses.

Documentary filmmaker, author and activist Michael Moore, a Flint resident who dissected the Flint water crisis in his 2018 film “Fahrenheit 11/9.”

Here’s how Moore describes the way in which the Flint water crisis occurred. “The basics are now known: the [former] Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their freshwater drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River. When the governor’s office discovered just how toxic the water was, they decided to keep quiet about it and covered up the extent of the damage being done to Flint’s residents, most notably the lead affecting the children, causing irreversible and permanent brain damage.”

Moore says for just $100 a day, the entire Flint water crisis could have been prevented. “Federal law requires that water systems which are sent through lead pipes must contain an additive that seals the lead into the pipe and prevents it from leaching into the water. Someone at the beginning suggested to the Governor that they add this anti-corrosive element to the water coming out of the Flint River. ‘How much would that cost?’ came the question. ‘$100 a day for three months,’ was the answer. I guess that was too much, so, in order to save $9,000, the state government said f*** it – and as a result, the State may now end up having to pay upwards of $1.5 billion to fix the mess.”

If the $600 million settlement is approved by the court and funds are distributed to claimants, the state will, in fact, have contributed over $1 billion to aid in the city’s relief and recovery efforts.

Past contributions include a settlement agreement whereby $97 million was made available to replace all of the city’s lead service lines in its water system. To date, the state has spent more than $409 million in response to the Flint water emergency.

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Michigan National Guard members provide water, filters, cartridges and test kits to the residents of Flint at five distribution sites, freeing up volunteers to assist elsewhere.  Jan. 16, 2016 (Photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Vega)

Lead exposure is linked to serious health impacts. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ASTDR, states that long-term exposure can result in decreased learning, memory, and attention, and weakness in fingers, wrists, or ankles. Lead exposure can cause anemia and damage to the kidneys. It can also cause increases in blood pressure, particularly in middle-aged and older individuals.

Large doses of lead exposure in adults have been linked to high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, and reduced fertility. In pregnant women, exposure to high levels of lead may cause a miscarriage. In men, it can cause damage to reproductive organs. Exposure to high lead levels can severely damage the brain and kidneys and can cause death.

Children are even more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults because their nervous system is still developing, warns the ASTDR. Even low levels of lead can impair the brain development of fetuses, infants, and young children. The damage can reverberate for a lifetime, reducing IQ and physical growth and contributing to anemia, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and behavioral problems.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission, a state-established body, concluded that the poor governmental response to the Flint crisis was a “result of systemic racism.”

In early 2016, a coalition of citizens and groups, including Flint resident Melissa Mays, the local group Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the nonprofit national organization Natural Resources Defense Council, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, sued the city and state officials in order to secure safe drinking water for Flint residents.

In November 2016, a federal judge sided with Flint residents and ordered the implementation of door-to-door delivery of bottled water to every home without a properly installed and maintained faucet filter.

The following March a major settlement required the city to replace the city’s thousands of lead pipes with funding from the state, and guaranteed further funding for comprehensive tap water testing, a faucet filter installation and education program, free bottled water through the following summer, and continued health programs to help residents deal with the residual effects of Flint’s tainted water.

How did the Flint River get so contaminated? It took decades the NRDC’s Brittany Greeson cites explains. “For more than a century, the Flint River, which flows through the heart of town, has served as an unofficial waste disposal site for treated and untreated refuse from the many local industries that have sprouted along its shores, from carriage and car factories to meatpacking plants and lumber and paper mills. The waterway has also received raw sewage from the city’s waste treatment plant, agricultural and urban runoff, and toxics from leaching landfills.”

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Republican Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic Senator and future Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer attend a political event, October 9, 2012 (Photo by Michigan Municipal League)

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel took office on January 1, 2019. The governor said, “From our first month in office, Attorney General Nessel and I made it clear to our teams that even though we inherited this situation, it was our responsibility to achieve the best possible settlement for the children and families of Flint – as soon as we could.”

“Protecting all Michiganders and their access to clean water is a priority for my administration to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. What happened in Flint should have never happened, and financial compensation with this settlement is just one of the many ways we can continue to show our support for the city of Flint and its families,” Whitmer said.

Governor Whitmer pledged to work to help the city complete lead service line replacement.

She approved a 2021 State budget that includes millions of dollars for Flint’s ongoing nutrition programs, child health care services, early childhood programs, lead prevention and abatement, school aid, services to seniors, and other programs supporting people in Flint who were previously exposed to lead and other contaminants.

Whitmer’s 2020 budget included $120 million to clean up drinking water through investments in water infrastructure. She created the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate and appointed a clean water public advocate and an environmental justice public advocate.

Whitmer says the state’s new lead and copper water quality standards are the strictest in the nation.

“We acknowledge that this settlement may not completely provide all that Flint needs and that many will still feel justifiable frustration with a system and structure that at times is not adequate to fully address what has happened to people in Flint over the last six years, Governor Whitmer said. “We hear and respect those voices and understand that healing Flint will take a long time, but our ongoing efforts and today’s settlement announcement are important steps in helping all of us move forward.”

A summary of the preliminary settlement <https://www.michigan.gov/documents/ag/Terms_of_Settlement_699810_7.pdf> has been released to the public. Complete details will be made available once the formal settlement is completed, which is expected within about 45 days.

That agreement, along with additional documents filed with the Court, will provide more details surrounding the settlement and outline the process for claimants going forward.

Approval of the settlement agreement must also be given by U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy, Michigan 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Christopher Murray and Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah.

Additional defendants named in plaintiffs’ lawsuits have not signed on to the settlement agreement with the state, and the plaintiffs’ lawsuits against those entities will continue.

Among those defendants are the engineering consultants, Veolia North America and Lockwood, Newnam & Andrews, who are also being sued by the Attorney General for their role in affecting the water supply. Nessel said the state hopes that some of those entities will join the settlement within the next 45 days.

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