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Montae Terry, 12, holds a sign during a protest at the State Capitol in Lansing Wednesday, October 28, 2015. (Photo: Danielle Duval/MLive.com)

On Behalf of City Poisoned By Water, Residents File Suit Against Gov. Snyder

Meanwhile, officials probe possible link between water crisis and deadly cases of Legionnaires' Disease

Deirdre FultonSarah Lazare

Michigan residents who say they've suffered injury from drinking lead-contaminated water have filed a class-action lawsuit against Gov. Rick Snyder, the state, and the city of Flint.

Plaintiffs Doris Collins, Robin Pleasant, and Jason Phinisee, all Flint residents who paid for—and in some cases continue to pay for—undrinkable water, filed the suit (pdf) on behalf of approximately 31,000 household residents who have also been affected by the public-health crisis.

""Since it's clear that the Snyder administration cannot adequately address this crisis, it's time the federal government stepped in."
—Lynna Kaucheck, Food & Water Watch

They say state and city officials all breached their contract to provide drinkable water, in return for payment, from April 2014 to the present. They charge that the "use of said funds without providing drinkable water as promised, constitutes unjust enrichment to the extent of the monies collected."

In addition to Snyder, the suit specifically names former Flint emergency financial manager Darnell Earley and other former emergency managers. 

The lawsuit also cites violation of the state's Consumer Protection Act, reading:

Prior to the time the State was forced to admit that it was responsible for poisoning the water, the State knowingly made false statements concerning the drinkability of the water. The State's statements that the water was suitable was drinking water were acts that were unfair, deceptive and practiced in violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

The legal action comes on top of a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as a separate class action lawsuit against the city, state and county, filed in November by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and National Resources Defense Council on behalf of the citizens of Flint, claiming officials had knowledge of dangerous levels of lead in the water but did nothing to protect the public health. ​

Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reported this week that cases of the potentially fatal Legionnaires' Disease have soared in Genesee County following the city's move to the toxic water source.

Eighty-seven cases have been reported since June 2014—two months after the switch. Of those cases, 10 have resulted in death.

Legionella bacteria typically grows in warm water and can cause severe respiratory disease and lung infections. MDHHS said it "cannot conclude that the increase is related to the water emergency in Flint"—but is treating the situation with "urgency."

The disturbing news is raising the alarm of residents, as well as high-profile activists.

"Legionella bacteria is transported by biofouled drinking water distribution systems, which Flint's clearly is," said renowned environmental activist Erin Brockovich on her Facebook page on Wednesday. "Once again... I beg, plead... cry for the [Environmental Protection Agency] to get into the Flint drinking water investigation and stop with the denial; your continued silence has proven deadly."

And filmmaker Michael Moore, who originally hails from Flint and has repeatedly called for Snyder's arrest, declared on Twitter:

"The water crisis in Flint is a total abomination," said Lynna Kaucheck, senior organizer for the advocacy group Food & Water Watch, in a statement released Thursday.

"Governor Snyder and his administration could have protected Flint residents, but instead they turned a blind eye, even assuring residents that their water was safe," Kaucheck continued. "The situation in Flint is the very definition of a man-made public health crisis."

Noting the ineptitude of current top officials, Food & Water Watch is calling for outsiders to take the reins before the situation gets even worse. "Since it's clear that the Snyder administration cannot adequately address this crisis, it's time the federal government stepped in," Kaucheck concluded. "The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should declare a state of emergency to give Flint residents the resources they so desperately need."


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