Flint once thrived as the home of the nation’s largest General Motors plant. The city’s economic decline began during the 1980s, when GM downsized.
In 2011, the state of Michigan took over Flint’s finances after an audit projected a $25 million deficit.
In order to reduce the water fund shortfall, the city announced that a new pipeline would be built to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint. In 2014, while the pipeline was under construction, the city turned to the Flint River as a water source. Soon after the switch, residents reported changes to the water’s color, smell and taste.
Tests in 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Virginia Tech indicated dangerous levels of lead in the water at residents’ homes.
Lead consumption can affect the heart, kidneys and nerves. Health effects of lead exposure in children include impaired cognition, behavioral disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty.
A class-action lawsuit charged that the state wasn’t treating the water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. As a result, the water was eroding the iron water mains, turning the water brown. Additionally, about half of the service lines to homes in Flint are made of lead and because the water wasn’t properly treated, lead began leaching into the water supply, in addition to the iron.
Overall, more than a dozen lawsuits, including several additional class-action suits, were filed against Michigan and the city of Flint, as well as various state and city officials and employees involved in the decision to switch the source of the drinking water and those responsible for monitoring water quality. The range of remedies sought included monetary compensation for lead poisoning and refunds for water bills.