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Flint water crisis: Judge approves $87 million lawsuit settlement

A federal judge has approved an $87 million settlement requiring the state of Michigan to pay the city of Flint to identify and replace at least 18,000 unsafe water pipes running into homes and other properties by 2020.

Six thousand lines made of lead or galvanized steel will be replaced with copper piping by January 1, 2018. A further 6,000 lines are to be replaced in each of the following two years at no cost to homeowners.

Water will be monitored extensively by a third-party independent monitor with public reporting to ensure that the water is safe to drink.

The deal also requires the state to pay $895,000 to cover their litigation costs of the plaintiffs that brought the 2016 lawsuit.

“The settlement agreement is fair, adequate, reasonable, and consistent with the public interest and it furthers the objectives of the safe water drinking act,” U.S. District Judge David Lawson said from the bench. “I believe it is in the best interest of the citizens of Flint and the citizens of the state of Michigan.”

Lawson also dismissed a separate lawsuit filed by Concerned Pastors for Social Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Michigan ACLU, and the city of Flint.

“The Flint Water Crisis has its roots in the state’s toxic emergency manager law and is a tragic example of what happens when state government displaces democracy to save a few bucks,” Michigan ACLU legal director Michael Steinberg said in a joint statement with several of the aforementioned groups.

Bottled water

The agreement doesn’t require door-to-door bottled water delivery, but residents will be able to call the city’s 211 number and receive free water deliveries within 24 hours.

According to the statement, the service can be discontinued if water monitoring results for the six-month period ending June 30 are below the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level” for lead.

The settlement grants them a schedule for water line replacements while the state gets a schedule for weaning Flint off the community resource stations where bottled water, water filters, and filter replacement cartridges are currently being distributed for free.

The state will continue providing these free cartridges so residents have a year-long supply after the replacement of their water lines.

The agreement requires at least nine stations to operate until May 1, with three closing by June 1 if demand has dropped off, and a further two by July 1. All stations could close as early as September 1, depending on test results on Flint’s tap water.

Michigan will expand its program for water filter education, installation, and maintenance. The state will make its best efforts to have at least 90 filter education specialists at work throughout the city, eight hours per day, Monday through Saturday, with specialists also available on Sundays by appointment and for follow-up.

The work of the filter specialists will be advertised on TV, radio, and other media, including in Spanish.

Medical care

Medicaid will continue to be expanded for Flint residents to cover pregnant women and children younger than 21 up to 400 percent of the poverty level until Mar. 2021.

Elevated blood level case management services will also be expanded by the state for children with elevated blood levels, with other services for children through Sept. 2018.

Any household with an active water account on the effective date of the agreement is covered even if the water bill is overdue, but abandoned homes aren’t covered.

All of this comes almost three years after a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron water treated in Detroit to Flint River water treated in Flint. The temporary cost-saving measure became a costly mistake as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has acknowledged the failure to require the use of corrosion-control chemicals as part of the treatment process.

Corrosive water caused lead to leach from joints, pipes, and fixtures, causing a spike in toxic lead levels in the blood of Flint residents.

Flint switched back to Detroit water in Oct. 2015, but the risk of lead remains because of damage to the city’s water distribution infrastructure.

Read the settlement in its entirety here.

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