Judge Rules U.S. Government Can Be Sued Over Response to Flint Water Crisis

Michigan National Guard To Help  Flint With Lead Contamination In Water Supply

Michigan National Guard To Help Flint With Lead Contamination In Water Supply

A federal judge ruled Thursday that residents in Flint, Michigan have the right to sue the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency over the mishandling of the city's water crisis.

Residents sued the EPA in 2017 over their "mishandling" of the water crisis. The lawsuit argued that officials were neglient in thier response and failed to use the authority granted to the agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act to intervene, investigate and warn residents about the health risks.

However, federal Judge Linda Parker did not rule whether EPA employees were negligent after the water system in Flint became contaminated with lead in 2014 and 2015. The judge only found that the government could be sued.

Attorneys for the government attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed last year, arguing that misconduct is exempt under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Parker said EPA employees were aware that lead had been leaching from old pipes after the water going to Flint residents was improperly treated and that the EPA knew that Michigan water regulators were misleading people about the health risks and quality of the water.

The "lies went on for months," the judge said in her ruling.

"The EPA’s failure to warn Flint residents of the severe health risks the city’s water supply posed to them cannot be justified by any permissible exercise of policy judgment," Parker said. “Within weeks of the switch to the Flint River, the people of Flint suffered rashes and hair loss.

"The EPA was well aware that the Flint River was highly corrosive and posed a significant danger of lead leaching out of the city’s lead-based service lines at alarming rates into residents’ homes. The EPA was well aware of the health risks posed by lead exposure, particularly to children and pregnant women. … Further, the EPA knew that (the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) and Flint officials were not warning Flint’s residents that they were being supplied lead-laced water."

Flint's water system began drawing its water from the Flint River after ending a decades-long relationship with their previous supplier. The water was not treated correctly, and lead from the older pipes began leeching into the system. All of the lead pipes are being replaced with work expected to be completed in 2019.

Photo: Getty Images

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