Seven families in Flint, Michigan, have filed a class-action lawsuit citing gross negligence at the hands of Gov. Rick Snyder in response to the effects of the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis.
In April of 2014, Flint switched its water source from Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River. Due to high concentrations of chloride in the river, the main iron water pipes suffered excessive corrosion, causing extremely elevated levels of lead in the water. To add insult to injury, a report found that residents of Flint paid more for their water than anyone else in the country while the water was contaminated.
The city of Flint wasn’t always so broken down. Flint was the beacon of the auto industry from the early 1900’s to the mid 1980’s. This was in large part due to the presence of industry titan General Motors (one of DiversityInc’s 2015 Top 25 Noteworthy Companies), which was formed in 1908. That year, Flint’s population was 38,000, and as the automobile industry grew, Flint thrived and by 1960, the city had a population of 196,000.
At one point GM employed more than 75,000 workers in the city, but from 1986 to 1992, more than 19,000 employees were let go, and the city entered a 30-year downward spiral. In 2014, U.S. Census reported a population of 99,000 a 50 percent decrease within the past 50 years. And following the switch to the Flint River for water, conditions only deteriorated further.
Today, parents are seeing the effects of lead poisoning on their children including Melissa Lightfoot, whose three children were all found to have high lead levels in their blood. Within the past year all three have been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder, a common side effect of lead poisoning for children.
The Lightfoots, joined by six other effected families, filed the lawsuit on Monday, March 7th. Their goal is to force local and state officials to take responsibility for the water crisis and have them provide coverage for any child poisoned.
Melissa Lightfoot got her children tested for lead prior to the city’s change in water source, and at that time none of them showed abnormal levels. The reference level for abnormality in blood lead levels is five micrograms per deciliter; however, a few months after the water became contaminated, the Lightfoot kids’ levels rose above reference level, showing a dangerous amount of exposure had occurred.
“I was scared,” Lightfoot said. “My kids are getting poisoned from something that’s a necessity and as a parent there’s nothing I can do to help them. It’s already in them, I can’t take it out, and there’s no medicine for it.”
The family has been using bottled water for all of their day-to-day functions, even for bathing. Lightfoot claims she has seen a deteriorating difference in her children’s behavior, specifically a lack of focus and anger outbursts. Her daughters even suffered minor hair loss, while her son developed rashes.
“I’m constantly at a doctor’s office,” she said. “If it’s not a doctor’s office, it’s an appointment for therapy, because of this lead being in my kids.”
Compared to her older siblings, Lightfoot’s youngest daughter, a 5-year-old “diva of the family” kindergartener, has the most alarming blood lead level of 8 micrograms per deciliter (g per dl), although one of the other victims in the class-action suit tested for nearly 30 g per dl.
The crisis has garnered nationwide attention, including from Democratic presidential hopefuls former Secretary of State and Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Both candidates have called on Gov. Snyder to resign, which he said he has no intention of doing.
One of the attorneys involved in the case, Hunter Shkolnik, said, “Lead poisoning is an insidious disease, we know the brain is permanently and irreversibly damaged but it doesn’t manifest itself immediately. These children have been pushed so far down now they cannot ever achieve what was expected of them.” An estimated 6,000 to 12,000 children have been affected by Flint’s water pollution.
The lawsuit focuses on holding any officials responsible for changing the water supply, ignoring the metallic pipe corrosion, falsely claiming the water was safe to drink and neglecting reported early signs of contamination. City and state officials have yet to comment on the pending legal action at hand.
Engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews, and Newman is deemed partly responsible, as they were hired by Flint before the water source switch in 2014. In a previous lawsuit, the firm claimed it had a “limited scope” on the work done and that it was the government’s decision to not implement corrosion control maintenance.
In March 2015, the city council of Flint voted to do all things necessary to correct the disaster 11 months after the initial switch that caused irreversible damage. Regardless of steps taken, Lightfoot’s trust in the city and peace of mind are permanently broken.
“I don’t know how the rest of my kids’ lives are going to play out because of how high their lead levels are,” she said. “Now I just want to get my kids out of Flint.”