A federal judge in the United States has approved a $626m settlement for victims of the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, in a case brought by tens of thousands of residents who were affected by the contaminated water.
Flint’s troubles began in 2014 after the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River to cut costs. Corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes, contaminating the drinking water and causing an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
“The settlement reached here is a remarkable achievement for many reasons, not the least of which is that it sets forth a comprehensive compensation program and timeline that is consistent for every qualifying participant,” US District Judge Judith Levy said in a 178-page decision on Wednesday.
The Flint water crisis was one of the country’s worst public health crises in recent memory.
The case became emblematic of racial inequality in the US as it afflicted a city where more than half of the 100,000 residents are Black.
The contamination prompted several lawsuits from parents who said their children were showing dangerously high blood levels of lead, which can cause developmental disorders. Lead can be toxic, and children are especially vulnerable.
Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was charged in January with two counts of willful neglect of duty over the lead poisoning of drinking water in Flint.
Payouts from the settlement approved on Wednesday will be made based on a formula that directs more money to younger claimants and to those who can prove greater injury.
Michigan’s attorney general has previously said that the settlement would rank as the largest in the state’s history.
“Although this is a significant victory for Flint, we have a ways to go in stopping Americans from being systematically poisoned in their own homes, schools, and places of work,” Corey Stern, a counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement after the judge’s order.
The deal was announced in August 2020 by Attorney General Dana Nessel and Governor Gretchen Whitmer, both Democrats, who were elected in 2018 while the litigation was pending.
It makes money available to every Flint child exposed to the water, every adult who can show an injury, certain business owners and anyone who paid water bills.
Flint is paying $20m towards the settlement, while McLaren Health is paying $5m, and an engineering firm, Rowe Professional Services, is paying $1.25m.
Flint switched back to a Detroit regional water agency in October 2015 after Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha publicly reported elevated lead levels in children.