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Flint Residents Take EPA to Task

Thursday, April 28, 2016

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Just days after the first criminal charges were filed against three city and government officials associated with the Flint water crisis, a Royal Oak, MI, law firm has filed a complaint against the federal agency responsible for protecting human health and the environment.

The complaint, filed by Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers on behalf of more than 500 affected residents, claims negligence on the part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and requests $220.2 million in damages, Reuters reported Tuesday (April 26).

According to the news agency, federal law requires that a complaint such as this be filed in advance of an actual lawsuit against a government agency like the EPA.

Flint MI Water Tower
© / LindaParton

A Royal Oak, MI, law firm has filed a complaint on behalf of 514 Flint, MI, residents accusing the agency of negligence and seeking $220 million in damages.

Michael Pitt, managing partner for the representing law firm, said in a statement, “The EPA heard the alarm bell loud and clear but chose to ignore the profound environmental and public health issues brought to its attention in the early stages of this disaster,” The Detroit News reported.

“This agency attitude of ‘public be damned’ amounts to a cruel and unspeakable act of environmental injustice for which damages will have to be paid to the thousands of injured water users.”

Dan Abrams, a spokesperson for the the EPA's Public Information Office, Flint Water Response, told PaintSquare News Wednesday (April 27) the agency is currently reviewing the complaint.

Negligent Performance

The complaint, representing 514 claimants, identifies Jan Burgess as the lead plaintiff. Burgess is said to have notified the EPA on Oct. 14, 2014, of a “massive environmental violation” occurring in her hometown of Flint after the MDEQ authorized the city to take its drinking water from the Flint River, said to be 19 times more corrosive than its previous water source.

Although she received a response within one week indicating that state officials were investigating the problem, it took 18 months before EPA officials would meet with Burgess about her concerns on April 9, 2016, according to the document.

The complaint outlines a timeline of how the crisis developed, using correspondence that took place between officials as complaints were investigated and water tested.

Flint, MI
© / DenisTangneyJr

One of the plaintiffs reportedly notified the EPA of a “massive environmental violation” in Flint after the city began to take its drinking water from the Flint River, said to be 19 times more corrosive than its previous water source.

In that timeline, a June 2015 email from Miguel Del Toral, regulations manager for Ground Water and Drinking Water Branch of EPA Region 5, is quoted. Del Toral wrote: “I understand that this is not a comfortable situation but the State is complicit in this and the public has a right to know what they are doing because it is their children that are being harmed. At a MINIMUM, the City should be warning residents about the high lead, not hiding it telling them that there is no lead in the water. To me that borders on criminal neglect.”

According to Pitt, "If the EPA had followed the advice of its own expert, many of the injuries to the people of Flint could have been avoided or minimized," Reuters reported.

Moreover, the filing notes that when the EPA began to provide services to MDEQ “for the protection” of the city’s residents, the agency “owed a duty of care to prevent or reduce the risk of harm” to the city, but instead “was an active actor in the mis-management of the unfolding environmental disaster.”

Claims for Damages

As a result, the complaint alleges negligence on behalf of the EPA, holding the agency responsible for “the knowledge of and acts and omissions of its agents and employees.” 

The document indicates the agency displayed:

  • Negligent performance of undertaking regarding corrosion control;
  • Negligent performance of undertaking regarding timely investigations; and
  • Negligent undertaking of duty to warn the public of environmental risks to public health.

It specifies claims, which fall under the Federal Tort Claims Act, for past and future damages related to:

  • Physical injury, caused by consuming water contaminated with lead, copper and other toxic materials, including legionella bacteria and lead particulates causing lead poisoning, among others;
  • Property damage, consisting of irreparable impairment of water lines, plumbing, hot water tanks and lost value of real estate; and
  • Emotional distress, experienced through fear and a “persistent and deep interference with all aspects of daily living and the quality of life.”

The property damage claim totals $15 million, and the personal injury damage claim totals $205.2 million. The complaint includes a line item for a wrongful death damage claim, noted “unknown at this time.”

The law firm indicated it would be filing a similar complaint next week covering 250 more Flint residents, Reuters stated.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Corrosion control coatings; Corrosion protection; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lead; North America; Pipeline; Pipes; potable water

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