A U.S. federal judge gave yesterday final approval to a $626 million settlement for the victims of the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, reports The Guardian.
The water crisis in Flint is one of the worst recent public health crises and has been highlighted as an example of systemic racism, affecting a city of some 100,000 people, more than half of them African-American. It started in April 2014, when the city changed its water supply to the Flint River to save millions of dollars. Without anti-corrosion treatment, residents were exposed to harmful levels of lead from ageing pipes in their drinking water. Bacteria in the contaminated water were also blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that caused 12 deaths.
Local officials denied any problems for over a year, then the city switched back to the Detroit water system in October 2015. Criminal proceedings are still under way against several defendants, including former state governor Rick Snyder, charged with wilful neglect of duty, his aide and two state health officials.
The Flint civil litigation is primarily a mass-tort lawsuit involving tens of thousands of individual residents who suffered different types and degree of injury. About 80% of the pay-out money will go to residents who were under 18 at the time of the crisis, as children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning. The funds would come mostly from the state of Michigan, paying $600 million, while the city of Flint and others will pay the remaining amount.
Meanwhile, residents who were adults at the time of the crisis are not expected to receive more than $1000 unless they show specific injuries. Some residents have said the amount is nowhere near big enough, especially when compared with other recent legal settlements, including former Flint mayor Karen Weaver. On the other hand, attorneys have requested more than $200 million in legal fees, an issue pending a separate ruling.