The Truth Behind the
Flint Water Crisis
A Betrayal of Public Trust on the Part of Government Officials
City, state and federal government officials caused the tragedy that occurred in Flint, Michigan, when they decided to change the city’s water source to save money at the expense of the health and well-being of Flint’s citizens. Those same government officials then tried to cover up the harm they caused to the people they were sworn to serve. As stated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit: “This case arises out of the infamous government-created environmental disaster commonly known as the Flint Water Crisis.”
Some background: in 2011, the city of Flint began evaluating a change of its water source in an effort to save money. In April 2014, Flint changed its water source to the Flint River. Immediately after the change in water supply, people in Flint complained about the disgusting taste, smell and color of their tap water and reported becoming sick from drinking and being exposed to the water.
By December 2014, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found that the city of Flint was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act because of high levels of a cancer causing chemical called Trihalomethane ("THM"). The THM, created as the result of the inadequate and incompetent efforts to treat Flint River water, exceeded the federal limit.
In February 2015, more than nine months after the change to Flint River water, Flint hired Veolia Water North America Operating Services (“VNA”) to help solve the serious problem of THM contaminating the public water supply. In addition to the public outcry about the taste, smell and color of the water, the City of Flint now had to address carcinogens in the water supply as well as notices issued to citizens that the water supply was so tainted that it failed to meet federal regulations. With an inadequately trained and under-qualified staff running an antiquated and run-down water treatment plant, the City of Flint was incapable of solving the problems it created – the THM contamination of the water supply and the related water quality issues of taste, smell and color. It was because of this that VNA was hired to help remedy those problems.
From the outset, VNA was instructed principally to analyze data that the city had already submitted to federal and state regulators. VNA also conducted limited sample (or “jar”) testing of the river water at the plant to advise Flint on potential additives and treatments to minimize organic material in the water. VNA advised Flint officials that its water could be corrosive. As part of our review, we asked for all lead test results, but we were provided only those test results that showed no problems with lead. The results for the regulatory testing conducted by the City in the second half of 2014 were made available to VNA in February 2015; those results showed that the lead levels were in compliance. Shockingly, the test results from the home of Flint resident LeeAnne Walters, showing high lead levels, were never disclosed to VNA or the people of Flint. Government officials in Flint and at MDEQ and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency discussed the issue among themselves in a series of emails. Those emails acknowledged that the Walters’ test results could signal a city-wide lead problem, but the officials continued on their bureaucratic schedules without doing a single thing to act on the critical information uncovered by the Walters' test results.
Although the lead testing given to VNA showed no current problem with lead, VNA recognized that lead levels could become a problem in the future and issued recommendations for corrosion control in its final report. City officials willfully ignored, disregarded or dismissed VNA’s corrosion control recommendation.
The review of the data provided by the city showed the water being treated at the Flint water treatment plant at that time was within applicable federal and state standards. We delivered that message and information in a highly transparent manner, and in good faith, in public meetings based on the data provided by Flint government officials. Throughout its limited time in Flint, VNA performed its analysis correctly and made the right recommendations.
Trying to shift blame away from those who caused this tragedy is an incredible disservice to the interests of justice and the people of Flint. Our people were used and duped; VNA’s good name and corporate reputation were used as a shield against public outrage directed at the state, city, and their officials. Those government officials are trying to create a corporate villain where one does not exist. Indeed a Michigan state court has rejected the Attorney General’s effort to divert responsibility away from the State and its officials by dismissing virtually all of the State’s attempt to recover from VNA for harm caused by state and local officials. This decision prevents the diversionary tactic of Government officials and trial lawyers trying to make VNA a scapegoat in this case.
In the final analysis, city, state and federal government officials had multiple opportunities to prevent this debacle from happening, but sadly, none of those governments nor those officials chose to carry out their duties and protect the citizens of Flint. Instead, they violated and betrayed the public trust and are now shamefully trying to find someone else to blame.