Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on Thursday that the state is making a preliminary $600 million settlement with Flint residents who were adversely affected when the city’s water source was switched in 2014.
Six years ago, while under state emergency management during the former Gov. Rick Snyder administration, the city changed its municipal water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. Officials didn’t apply corrosion inhibitors, which caused lead to leach from the city’s old pipes system into drinking water.
A number of residents brought class-action lawsuits against the city and state after thousands of Flint children were exposed to lead in the water. Bacterial presence, which was fueled by low chlorine levels in the water, also caused a significant outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. It’s widely regarded as one of Michigan’s worst public health crises and a textbook example of environmental racism.
The settlement establishes a court-monitored victims compensation fund. About 80% of the $600 million is going to be spent on settling lawsuits filed on behalf of children who were minors when they were affected by the crisis. Lead poisoning is particularly harmful to young children’s brain development.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician who raised the alarm over Flint water in 2015, has established the Flint Registry for residents to be connected with services and programs that promote health and wellness.
In a news release announcing the lawsuit, Nessel said she hopes the state can begin the process of closing “one of the most difficult chapters” in state history while writing a new one.
“Flint residents have endured more than most, and to draw out the legal back-and-forth even longer would have achieved nothing but continued hardship,” Nessel said in the release. “This settlement focuses on the children and the future of Flint, and the State will do all it can to make this a step forward in the healing process for one of Michigan’s most resilient cities.”
Whitmer also released a video about the settlement, saying in it that it’s been a top priority for she and Nessel to ensure the best possible settlement for Flint children and families.
“What happened in Flint should never have happened, and financial compensation with a settlement is just one of many ways we can and will continue to show our support for the city of Flint and its families,” Whitmer said.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat who represents the Flint region, said in a statement that while he supports the settlement, there will “never be a number” that adequately recognizes harm done to Flint families.
“Justice for Flint families ultimately will take many forms, including today’s announcement. Justice comes by holding those state officials accountable for what they did to Flint,” Kildee said. “Justice also requires making sure that families have access to critical resources, like the Flint Registry and other health care, educational and nutritional services, that can continue to help mitigate the effects of lead exposure. Flint families deserve our continued support and we owe it to other communities to learn the lessons of the man-made crisis, so it never happens elsewhere.”
State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said the settlement represents “a meaningful step” toward justice for Flint residents.
“More important than the money is the acknowledgment that our people – our children – have been permanently harmed by the deliberate negligence of those who were supposed to serve us,” Ananich said. “The settlement is welcome news, but I have said from the very beginning that the demand for justice will not be satisfied until every person who had a hand in poisoning my city be held legally accountable, regardless of political position or power.”
The attorney general’s office said full details will be made available once a formal settlement is complete. They said they expect that within 45 days.
Meanwhile, the complete preliminary agreement is available to the public.