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Flint water crisis: Judge rules US government can be sued over 'mishandling'

Victoria Gagliardo-Silver

A federal judge ruled that residents of Flint, Michigan who were affected by water contamination have a right to sue the US government.

Judge Linda Parker deemed that the case brought by Flint residents against the Environmental Protection Agency for “mishandling” the 2014 crisis can move forward, despite attorneys for the agency arguing that the agency wasn’t liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act discretionary function exception.

Linda Parker, who serves as a judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan said the government is not immune from a lawsuit.

There was no ruling on if federal employees were negligent in addressing Flint’s contaminated water.

Flint’s water issues arose after it was found that after switching sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014, which according to Virginia Tech researchers, is 19 times more corrosive.

Almost immediately after the switch, Flint residents began to suffer from hair loss, rashes, lead poisoning, foetal death, and Legionnaires disease, which affected 87 and killed 12. The water was discolored and infused with high levels of lead.

This was ongoing for months, with low-level employees reporting to higher level EPA officials who failed to take action. Residents blame the EPA for mishandling the crisis, not warning residents of ongoing contamination. Plaintiffs in the case argue that the EPA failed to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to address the health risks from lead-laden water.

Then-President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency for the town, but even that was not enough to fix the crisis.

Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint, Michigan had previously told The Independent that had the city not been predominantly people of colour, the crisis may not have happened, or been handled differently.

“One of the things we can’t forget is, the facts are the facts. This is a majority minority city. Not only did race play a factor, but class played a role, because of our high unemployment rate” Ms Weaver said in an interview with The Independent’s Andrew Buncombe.