Lawyers for residents of Flint, Michigan filed a $220 million negligence claim against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to its lake of oversight in protecting the public against dangerous lead levels in the city's water supply.
Michael Pitt of the firm Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers said he had filed an administrative complaint on Monday with the EPA alleging injuries to over 500 people. He said a similar complaint would be filed next week covering an additional 250 Flint residents.
Federal law requires such complaints be filed prior to actual lawsuits against government agencies.
"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," Pitt said. "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."
Last week, two Michigan state officials and a Flint employee were charged with criminal offenses in the city's water crisis.
Flint was run by Darnell Earley, a state-appointed emergency manager, in April 2014 when it switched its source of water from Detroit's municipal system to the Flint River in order to cut costs. The water corroded the city's aging pipes, which began to leach lead into the drinking water supply. The city switched back in October after blood tests found lead in some children.
The complaint cites an email from EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral to a regional chief in June 2015 that said it would be criminally negligent not to warn Flint residents about lead contamination in the water supply. Lead can cause severe damage, especially to children.
The complaint alleges past and future personal injury claims from lead poisoning, as well as economic losses.
The EPA will review the complaint.
"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," Pitt said.
Del Toral told the EPA as early as February 2015 that it was questionable whether the state or city were using required corrosion controls.
And, according to the complaint, one resident, Jan Burgess, reported in October 2014 a major violation to the EPA, which was not investigated until earlier in April.
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