Melissa Mays realized Flint’s water was toxic long before Michigan declared a state of emergency earlier this month.
“After the water switch, I ran the kitchen tap and it came out just yellow, just disgusting yellow,” said Mays, a mother of three who is now an activist and a plaintiff in lawsuits against the state.
Her first sight of foul water happened in the summer of 2014 — some two months after the economically challenged city switched its water supply as a cost saving measure. Months of calls and inquires followed. All the while, city officials told residents like Mays that their water was safe.
But in January of 2015 the problem was indisputable, she said, once federal notices of health violations were sent to residents. “We knew right then and there that there was a problem and they weren’t telling us everything,” said Mays, one of thousands of Flint residents who for months unknowingly drank and cooked with lead polluted water.
On Wednesday, a coalition of local citizens and national organizations seeking federal court intervention filed the latest lawsuit against city and state officials. Citing distrust, groups said they want to ensure through the courts that safe water returns to Flint. “The people in Flint cannot rely on the government entities that created this problem to fix this problem,” said Sarah Tallman, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, to ThinkProgress.
Children, who are most vulnerable to lead’s harmful effects including brain injury, are known to be poisoned with the toxic substance. What’s more, the city of some 100,000 is still without safe tap water. As the city and the state officials scramble to explain how this public health catastrophe came to be, lawsuits are mounting.
According to Virginia Tech independent researchers in Flint, the city’s water supply coming from the Flint River has about eight times more chloride than its previous supplier, Detroit’s water system. High chloride levels made the water excessively corrosive to Flint’s pipes, which polluted the water with lead. The chloride polluting the Flint River likely came from salts used to keep ice from the roads during the winter time, according to published reports. Flint did not apply corrosion inhibitor chemicals commonly used to mitigate such problems.
Tallman said the lawsuit against seven officials, including state Treasurer Nick Khouri, doesn’t seek monetary damages. “We are seeking a court order requiring defendants … to follow the rules for testing water for lead, for monitoring for lead in Flint area homes, and for treating the water to control its corrosiveness.”
“We are also asking the court to order the full replacement of all the lead containing pipes,” Tallman added.
The lawsuits lists many officials of the Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Group, which has the final say on all resolutions and ordinances passed by the city council and certain business contracts. The board was appointed in April of 2015, when the city got some powers back after financial insolvency forced the state to appoint emergency city managers for years.
Defendants from the Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Group couldn’t be reached for comment by press time or declined to comment. However, Terry Stanton, spokesman for the state Department of Treasury, said in an email that they have received and are reviewing the lawsuit. While declining to further comment on the current litigation, Stanton said “the state’s top priority is making sure the people of Flint immediately have access to safe, clean water, and that includes reaching every home to supply water, filters, replacement filter cartridges and water testing kits.”
Meanwhile, water quality levels may be improving, city and state officials said during a press conference Wednesday, as more than 90 percent of recent tests show lead levels below the required limit of 15 parts per billion. Public health scientists say there is no safe level for lead in water, according to multiple published reports.
“We’ll properly answer any lawsuit filed,” said Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI), to reporters Wednesday when asked about lawsuits, “but let’s take care of the people in Flint.”
But for Mays, who is a plaintiff in this case, the state response is still lacking, and the only recourse to make sure that safe water is available to Flint is litigation. “It’s a shame that in 2016 America we have to sue state government agencies to do what they are paid to do.”