The Flint Water Crisis that resulted in widespread lead poisoning of thousands of children and adults in Flint, Michigan is tragically a story of governmental failure at every level. This failure was not only preventable, but it was also catastrophic in its impact on Flint’s families, and particularly Flint’s children. The best means to deal with the severe health and developmental impacts, addressing both the current and future affects of lead poisoning of Flint residents, is by passing the Flint Act.
The Flint Water Crisis is a story of governmental failure at every level. With the City of Flint under emergency management, the Flint Water Department rushed unprepared into full-time operation of the Flint Water Treatment Plant. In 2014, the Department began drawing water from a highly corrosive source, the Flint River, but neglected to use corrosion control as required under Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead and Copper Rule. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) incorrectly determined that this critical element of water treatment was not immediately required. Ultimately, the corrosive drinking water caused lead to leach from the old pipes and plumbing fixtures. This increased the likelihood of water contamination with Legionella, which in Flint was the first sign of trouble. Despite mounting evidence, the state rebuffed efforts to report and publicize this issue. The EPA, which should have exercised its powers under the Safe Drinking Water Act, prior to January 2016, failed for over nine months to protect Flint’s families from poisoning. In the end, governmental breakdowns spanned local, state and federal levels. Only through the determination of Flint’s citizens did this story emerge and shine a light on this catastrophe.
This failure was preventable, and sadly catastrophic, in its impact on Flint’s families.
Put simply, this was a human failure based on poor decision-making, degraded capacity, and inaction at all levels of government. Flint’s families already pay the price for these failures, and they will continue to pay the price for at least a generation. Widespread lead poising and an increase in Legionnaire’s Disease are the results of these preventable failures. Additionally, the economic viability, home values and livelihood of Flint’s residents have been seriously impacted, and will be for years to come.
Flint’s children have been particularly impacted by drinking poisoned water. Lead poisoning is dangerous for everyone, but children’s growing bodies are particularly susceptible to the dangerous affects of lead poisoning. Over 30,000 children under 18 years old live in Flint, which means the scope of impacted lives is tremendous and long-lasting. Just 1 microgram of lead in a deciliter of liquid – the equivalent of two grains of sugar in a 5-gallon office water cooler – can degrade intelligence and testing performance in children, and once lead poisoning is present, the negative affects will be seen throughout life. With the elevated lead levels seen in Flint, thousands of children are now susceptible to permanent brain damage and a significantly increased risk of contracting cancer, respiratory ailments, intestinal disorders, physical impairments and other serious diseases.
The best means to address healthcare and development needs for Flint is passing the Flint Act. The Flint Act represents the only pathway for our nation to make good on the promise to protect our citizens enabling the opportunity to lead a healthy and safe life. Every family in Flint for decades to come will incur significant future expenses for medical monitoring of their children as well as adults, and those affected will have constant medical expenses throughout life. With 41% of The Flint Act represents the only pathway for our nation to make good on the promise to protect our citizens enabling the opportunity to lead a healthy and safe life. Every family in Flint for decades to come will incur significant future expenses for medical monitoring of their children as well as adults, and those affected will have constant medical expenses throughout life. With 41% of the Flint’s citizens living under the federal poverty rate, and the city under state oversight since 2011, the city of Flint does not have the means to manage what is certain to become a massive financial burden. Establishing a Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) on behalf of the children and families permanently injured by the Flint Water crisis creates a direct means to provide health care guarantees and economic support for the populace. With the ability to address these concerns in a focused and limited way, the federal government will prevent any future claims against the public sector, and thereby prevent an irreparable impact on the local government and economy, and at the same time create a manageable glide path for medical monitoring, treatment, and health evaluation of the children of Flint..
The Flint Act represents the only pathway for our nation to make good on the promise that government services offer at best an opportunity for citizens to lead healthier and safer lives, and at the very least will do no harm. In Flint, those government services did incalculable harm.
Flint by the Numbers
approx. number of children
population below poverty line
lead service pipes to replace
median home value
What is the Flint Victims Compensation Fund?
The Flint Victims Compensation Fund (Flint VCF) will provide government funds to help mitigate the water crisis in Flint where people were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead for an extended period of time. Lead is extremely toxic, and once poisoned, there is no cure. These families, particularly those with young children, are now burdened with the fallout, which will last at least a generation. Through no fault of their own, they must now deal with learning disabilities and medical treatments for physical and emotional ailments. A VCF will quickly provide individual support and the ongoing health care and education services that people need.
Why is a Victims Compensation Fund necessary?
Flint is a man-made disaster. For natural disasters, emergency funds are quickly made available. Victims of terrorist attacks are often compensated through funds for that issue. For man-made disasters, however, there are no funding vehicles. These situations can often be dealt with at a state or local level, such as VCF’s for victims of crime. The September 11th VCF was the first, and to date only federal VCF, and was created because the number of victims would have quickly overwhelmed local or state capacities. With 99,000 residents in Flint potentially exposed to lead poisoning, the size and scope of this man-made crisis can only be solved by a VCF.
Why can’t the people of Flint sue those who were responsible?
Numerous class-action lawsuits for Flint have been filed, but finding remediation through the courts can take years. Meanwhile, the people of Flint need help now, as providing care quickly and consistently is essential. In addition, while a lawsuit and VCF can both award damages to affected individuals, only a VCF can establish permanent health care and education services for victims, thereby creating a more comprehensive solution.
Can a family collect from the VCF and sue the guilty parties?
No, people would have to choose whether they wanted to seek remediation in the courts or through the VCF. As for punishing guilty parties, neither a VCF nor class action lawsuit deals with the guilt or innocence of individuals as both only seek to provide support to victims.
Where does the money come from and how will it be distributed?
Under the proposed legislation, the VCF will be financed by the State of Michigan and the Federal Government. An administrator will be chosen and clear parameters will be set on eligibility. Victims will receive direct compensation for their losses, with the administrator determining compensation for each individual. Lawyers representing victims will receive a percentage of the final settlement, but is expected to be less than would be received under a class action suit.
Lead is being found in a lot of water systems, so why does Flint need a VCF?
The situation in Flint is a crisis, and is far worse than elsewhere. According to Dr. Mark Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech, Flint had the highest sustained level of lead he had seen in 25 years of work in the field. In other regions, lead in the water has been addressed as soon as it is discovered, but Flint officials covered up the situation for over a year, dramatically increasing the levels of lead and damage caused to the people of Flint.
Are there any bills in Congress that will deal with this?
Not really. The situation in Flint has two parts: people and pipes. There are no bills in Congress to address people’s medical and education needs or offer compensation for the very real damages they have incurred. As for pipes, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is an important government fund that will provide replacement of municipal water pipes, but not pipes in the home. The water in Flint destroyed all lead water pipes, whether municipal or private. They must now all be replaced in order to stop further lead poisoning.