Another big name has surfaced in the tsunami of Flint water lawsuits: the NAACP, which is suing several state officials and two engineering firms, alleging they poisoned a city with toxic drinking water by failing to detect that something was wrong, pretending a problem didn’t exist and ignoring numerous red flags.
“Just the color of Flint’s water should have led any reasonable engineer to the conclusion that Flint’s pipes were dangerously corroded,” the 103-page lawsuit states.
The NAACP announced the lawsuit today, though it was filed on March 31 in U.S. District Court, where at least two dozen other Flint-related lawsuits are pending. This one blames Gov. Rick Snyder, several state officials and two engineering firms for the crisis, claiming they engaged in “gross negligence” and “outrageous conduct” that harmed many. Not only did officials fail to detect a water problem, the lawsuits says, but they made the problem worse by not properly treating the water. And even when they knew the water was tainted, the suit says, public officials repeatedly maintained that it was safe to drink, despite a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak linked to the water.
“All the while — despite public assurances of safety — government officials in Flint quietly switched to bottled water while the citizens and businesses of Flint continued to drink dangerously contaminated water,” the lawsuit states.
The defendants have not been available for comment.
The lawsuit documents the crisis that emerged after Flint switched its water supply in 2014 from Detroit to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure. Many people suffered physically and financially because of high levels of lead turning up in the drinking water supply, the lawsuit states, noting it all happened under the control of state-appointed emergency managers. The lawsuit includes multiple emails to support its negligence theory, including one issued by a top water official who last October wrote this to Snyder and others: “I believe now we made a mistake.”
That email was sent more than a year after public officials recognized corroding pipes were contaminating the water and switched back to Detroit’s water system.
The suit claims residents and businesses in flint have suffered, and will continue to suffer, from exposure to toxic water. And it seeks to hold the officials who caused the crisis accountable.
The lawsuit claims that officials and companies supervising the water system failed to properly treat the water supply for salt and other chemicals, which caused lead to leach from corroded pipes into the drinking water for years.
The defendants in the lawsuit are Snyder, six former high-ranking officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; three men who were emergency managers during the prolonged exposure period, and two engineering firms that were hired to analyze water in the city, Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam and Veolia North America.
“The people of Flint have been harmed through the failure of state officials to provide professional and accountable basic services mandated by federal law and expected by any person living in a major city,” said Cornell William Brooks, the national president and CEO of the NAACP. “Our organization stands with the citizens of Flint to demand a clear timeline, deadline and price tag for fixing this crisis.”
The lawsuit seeks property damages, pain and suffering damages, emotional distress damages, medical monitoring, and other injunctive relief for affected city residents and businesses to be determined by the court.
The NAACP and attorneys in the case are planning to host Town Hall meetings with residents in the near future in Flint to discuss further action.
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