Over 30 lawsuits have been filed so far in connection with the Flint water scandal, with more on the way. Already the potential damages claimed against public officials and private businesses amount to more than $40 million. To this point, however, the Flint lawsuits stop short of naming Governor Rick Snyder, who took responsibility for the crisis in his January State of the State address, as a defendant.
Public employees named in the cases include workers in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Department of Health and Human Services and the Flint Department of Public Works.
Three private companies have been named as defendants: Rowe Professional, Lockwood Andrews, and Veolia. Rowe Professional, a civil engineering firm, was hired by the city of Flint in 2013 to act as city engineer. Lockwood Andrews is an engineering services and program management company hired by the city to oversee the April, 2014 transition at its water treatment plant from sourcing water from Detroit to sourcing it from the badly polluted Flint River. Veolia, an environmental services company, conducted an analysis of the city’s water system. Veolia issued a report in March of 2015 claiming the city was compliant with state and federal safe drinking water standards.
Lockwood Andrews (LAN) claims that it was responsible only for servicing certain systems in the water treatment process, “not overall water quality,” and that those systems, according to spokesman Peter Wentz, “are operating without issue.” LAN disavows any responsibility for corrosion control of the city’s water, saying those decisions were made by the DEQ and the city. It was the level of corrosive content in the Flint River water that caused lead in service pipes to leach into residents’ water.
It is known that the DEQ misrepresented its corrosion control measures to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Veolia North America, a subsidiary of a French company, claims its 2015 report to the city of Flint was not intended to analyze lead content in residential water. “It was an analysis of the city water treatment process only as it relates to the residual chlorine problem they were experiencing at the time,” said communications manager Paul Whitmore of Veolia. “It was pretty clear that we were limited in focus to that purpose.”
Corey Stern, of plaintiffs’ attorneys Levy Konigsberg, states that damage amounts in the Flint lawsuits could be quite high because exposure to the lead in the water was recurring and long-term. Also, he notes, at least half of the children of families retaining law firms are under the age of six, when the effects of lead exposure are most serious and can include irreversible brain and neurological damage.
Neither the state, the city of Flint nor Governor Snyder has been named as a defendant in any of the suits. The principle of “governmental immunity” provides a defense for policymakers and governments so difficult for plaintiffs to overcome that it is seldom attempted.
Photo source: rt.com