On Thursday, a United States District Court Judge made a ruling of a lifetime. According to the judge, the residents of Flint, Michigan are well within their rights to sue the federal government agencies for alleged “mishandling” of the water crisis in Flint. The lawsuit, which was filed by as many as 5,000 residents of the Eastern District of Michigan, accuses the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of being negligent in their reaction to the high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water.
According to The Detroit News, one of the claims in the lawsuit included allegations that the EPA failed to investigate the threat that the city’s new water supply posed to the citizens. The claims also point out the EPA’s unwillingness to enforce their authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is a power that would have allowed the EPA to step in and take care of the safety of the public.
The lawsuit also points out that the EPA knew about the safety concerns the new water system would bring about. The lawsuit also alleges that the local officials were refusing to provide the public with adequate information about the dangerous situation.
Unwilling to rule on “ultimate liability,” Federal Judge Linda Parker said on Thursday that the lawsuit could continue. Judge Parker also added that the United States federal government is not “immune” to these types of lawsuits.
In her order, Judge Parker wrote: “[The court] can today state with certainty that the acts leading to the creation of the Flint Water Crisis, alleged to be rooted in lies, recklessness and profound disrespect have and will continue to produce a heinous impact for the people of Flint.”
Judge Parker continued by saying: “These lies went on for months while the people of Flint continued to be poisoned.” Initially, the water crisis in Flint began when the city stopped taking its water from the Detroit River and Lake Huron, and started taking the water out of the more cost-effective Flint River. Because of extremely poor water treatment practices, the lead from the city’s ancient water pipes began to leach into the city’s water supply.
According to The Detroit News, the EPA had been notified as early as October of 2014 that at least one resident of Flint, Jan Burgess, had been having problems with the water. In as early as June of 2015, an internal memo within the EPA, sent by Region 5 water expert Miguel del Toro, had apparently also “warned of Flint water problems.”
Considering that nothing at all was done about the water until January of 2016, well over 100,000 residents of Flint were exposed to high levels of lead. And to make matters even worse, it is still undetermined as to whether or not the drinking water is still at undrinkable levels.
According to Michael Pitt, one of the people representing the residents of Flint, the ruling made by Judge Parker is good enough of a start for the residents who are looking for some kind of closure. “This ruling will shake up the EPA, which has refused to accept responsibility in causing the catastrophe,” said Pitt.
Pitt continued by saying that “The EPA is mandated by Congress to be a watchdog over state environmental operations and is required by law to take over drinking water systems when a significant public health risk becomes apparent.” Hopefully, the citizens of Flint will get some closure to their water crisis very soon.