The federal government can be sued for negligence in the Flint water crisis, a judge said Wednesday, citing the failure of regulators to timely act as good Samaritans and blow the whistle on lead in the water supply.
The decision comes days after the state of Michigan said it's willing to pay $600 million to settle a raft of lawsuits by Flint residents over disastrous decisions by Gov. Rick Snyder's administration.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn't cause Flint's water to be contaminated with lead, but it knew about high lead levels and didn't crackdown in time, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy said in an 86-page opinion.
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“Indeed, the harm to (residents) increased every day they drank, fed their babies formula made with contaminated water, and took showers in lead and bacteria-infested water,” Levy said.
Starting in April 2014, Flint pulled water from the Flint River for 18 months without treating it to reduce corrosion. The water caused lead to be released from old pipes and into kitchen taps, bathrooms and water heaters.
The government said Michigan was the lead regulator and bears any responsibility, among other arguments.
But the judge noted that the EPA responded to complaints about the water and provided expertise to the state and Flint.
“The EPA knew as early as June 2015 that Flint residents were in danger of drinking and being exposed to lead contaminated water,” Levy said.