flint water crisis
August 20, 2020

This week, the state of Michigan is expected to announce that it will pay $600 million to victims of the Flint water crisis, two people with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times.

In 2014, the city of Flint switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River, and for nearly two years, residents were exposed to lead-contaminated water. Tens of thousands of residents are expected to be eligible to receive funds, the Times reports, with most of the settlement money going to children. The settlement is still subject to approval by a federal judge.

Flint residents complained to state and local officials about the murky water that was coming out of their taps, which had a metallic taste. Many came forward and reported feeling sick after drinking the water, and said they were developing rashes and losing their hair. They were ignored for months, with officials even dismissing warnings from doctors, scientists, and researchers until they could no longer avoid admitting the water was tainted.

Today, Flint's water is coming from Lake Huron again, and treated in Detroit. The city is finishing a project to replace lead service lines, and Mayor Sheldon Neeley said last week that there are fewer than 2,500 homes that still need to have their lines done. Catherine Garcia

January 21, 2020

The Supreme Court shot down a petition from Flint, Mich., and local officials who were trying to block a lawsuit spurred by the city's water crisis, Bloomberg Environment reports.

The city and officials have argued they should be immune from being sued and reportedly warned the Supreme Court against allowing the substantive due process of bodily integrity (the right to have one's body free from physical interference) to "be radically expanded to encompass judicially created environmental policy." But it was to no avail — the justices turned away the case without comment, allowing a lawsuit against the city and water regulators to go forward.

The suit claims officials failed to protect residents from exposure to lead, which was found in Flint's water at dangerously high levels following a change in the local drinking water source in 2014. Around 25,000 people have filed lawsuits over the crisis, many of which are expected to go forward in lower courts. Tim O'Donnell

April 19, 2019

A federal judge ruled on Friday that residents of Flint, Michigan, can move forward with a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the city's lack of clean drinking water, reports The Associated Press.

The government is not immune from legal action, ruled Judge Linda Parker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. She didn't rule that the government was negligent in 2014 when Flint's drinking water first became contaminated with lead, but said the Environmental Protection Agency could be sued by residents who have criticized the slow response to the crisis.

EPA employees knew lead was leaching from old pipes, said Parker, per The Hill, and the "lies went on for months while the people of Flint continued to be poisoned." Summer Meza

February 5, 2018

The city of Flint, Michigan, is still dealing with the fallout of its contaminated water crisis. In 2014, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River — and in addition to the resulting dangerously high levels of lead in the water, two studies published Monday revealed that the change in water supply also caused a massive outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the city between 2014 and 2015.

The outbreak killed 12 people and affected at least 87, NPR reported. Eighty percent of those cases are thought to have been caused by the water change, revealed one study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists theorize the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's thrived in the water from the Flint River water because that supply had lower levels of chlorine than the water from Lake Huron. Chlorine is one of the important killers of waterborne bacteria.

Chlorine is also known to interact differently with various metals, which means that the high lead levels in Flint's water might explain why the chlorine presence was so low — and why the Legionnaires' outbreak ended so quickly after Flint's water source switched away from the Flint River. Still, there are complications that may prevent the true impact of the Legionnaires' outbreak from ever being known, The Detroit News explained, including that some cases of Legionnaire's may have been misdiagnosed as pneumonia.

The study findings may have dire consequences for six local officials facing charges of involuntary manslaughter related to Legionnaires' disease, a legal analyst told The Detroit News. Read more about the studies here. Shivani Ishwar

September 21, 2017

A new study in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, water contamination crisis uncovered unsettling trends in fertility rates and fetal deaths during the time period the city was grappling with high levels of lead in its water supply. The working paper by West Virginia University's Daniel Grossman and University of Kansas' David Slusky concluded that "between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water."

Fetal deaths, when pregnancies last longer than 20 weeks but don't result in a live birth, rose 58 percent from April 2014 to 2016. Fertility rates dropped by 12 percent during that time period. "Either Flint residents were unable to conceive children, or women were having more miscarriages during this time," Slusky said.

The timing of these shifts is notable, as it was in 2014 when Flint's water was contaminated with dangerous levels of lead after the local government, under a state-appointed emergency manager, changed the city's water sources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that lead "can damage a developing baby's nervous system, causing miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as infertility in both men and women," USA Today reported.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, however, concluded in July 2015 that there was no "evidence that indicates the water switch" affected fetal death rates. Becca Stanek

June 14, 2017

Nick Lyon, the head of Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services, was charged Wednesday morning in relation to the ongoing Flint water crisis. Lyon is accused of failing to alert the public of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak, which experts have linked to tainted water in the Flint area.

Lyon is the highest-ranking official to be charged in the state attorney general's investigation into the Flint water crisis; he faces involuntary manslaughter charges, among others. The state's chief medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, has also been charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer.

The Flint water crisis dates back to April 2014, when the city began using water from the Flint River as a backup while it updated its piping system to Lake Huron. Flint officials didn't treat the water with an anti-corrosive agent — a violation of federal law — and lead from the city's old plumbing leaked into the untreated water, which was being used by Flint residents. Despite numerous reports, memos, complaints, and even third-party studies on the health risks of the Flint River water and the city's lead levels, Flint officials didn't switch water sources until October 2015.

The immediate and potentially long-lasting health effects of Flint's water crisis are alarming. Even low amounts of lead can cause brain damage and developmental and behavioral issues, particularly in children. In 2014 and 2015, there were nearly 100 reported cases of Legionnaires' disease — a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs — including 12 deaths. Lauren Hansen

June 5, 2017

A Flint, Michigan, county employee who blamed the city's water crisis on "f—ing n—ers [who] don't pay their bills" has resigned.

The Genesee County Land Bank manages tax-foreclosed properties in Flint, a city still trying to recover from its water being contaminated with lead, poisoning residents. Late last month, local water activist Chelsea Lyons was told that Genesee County Land Bank sales manager Phil Stair was at an area bar. She started talking to him, and recorded their conversations, ultimately posting them on her blog. In the recording, Stair is heard saying, "Flint has the same problems as Detroit, f—ing n—ers don't pay their bills, believe me, I deal with them."

Lyons told MLive.com on Monday she is concerned about Genesee County Land Bank "taking up all of the properties in Flint. They are pushing people out of the neighborhood." In Flint, where more than 56 percent of residents are black, many people are facing foreclosure because they refuse to pay their bills for water that still can't be used. Michele Wildman, executive director of Genesee County Land Bank, told NBC News she was "deeply troubled by the offensive and inexcusable comments," adding that Stair "does not reflect our values as a company." Catherine Garcia

May 4, 2017

The Flint, Michigan, water crisis is far from resolved — and for thousands of families in the area, it may soon get much worse.

Flint's city government has sent out warning letters to 8,002 households in the area threatening foreclosure over water bills residents have not paid for six months or more. The letter recipients aren't in trouble for being behind on their mortgages; if the families lose their homes, it will be via a city tax lien over their unpaid utility bills.

For some who received the warning, paying the bill is a financial problem, but for others it's a matter of principle: Flint's water quality is on the rise since it began buying water from Detroit, but many of the city's lead supply pipes will not be fixed or replaced for several years. "While I understand this is the way the law reads, we are in a totally different situation," said Flint's Melissa Mays, who received the notice and plans to pay her $900 bill to avoid foreclosure, even though she believes the city's threat is unfair given the circumstances.

City officials argue the foreclosure warnings are necessary because the city needs the revenue and cannot give water away for free. A number of officials involved in the water crisis face criminal charges. Bonnie Kristian

See More Speed Reads