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Judge Rules Flint Can Sue Federal Officials Over Water Contamination

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A federal judge ruled Thursday that Flint citizens can move forward with lawsuits targeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s handling of the city’s lead contamination problems.

The EPA under former President Barack Obama was too slow to intervene in the case, according to U.S. Judge Linda Parker, who ruled that the federal government was not immune from legal action in the case. More than a dozen lawsuits were filed against Michigan and city officials after researchers discovered in 2016 that Flint’s water contained elevated levels of lead in 2014 and 2015.

“The impact on the health of the nearly 100,000 residents of the City of Flint remains untold,” Parker wrote in her opinion. “It is anticipated, however, that the injury caused by the lead-contaminated public water supply system will affect the residents for years and likely generations to come.”

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The EPA knew Flint officials “were not warning Flint’s residents that they were being supplied lead-laced water. Quite to the contrary, the EPA learned that State and local officials were misleading residents to believe that there was nothing wrong with the water supply,” the judge added.

Fifteen state and local officials have been criminally indicted in connection with what many in the media have dubbed a water crisis. Four of the officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Much of the controversy happened after Flint switched its water source to the Flint River in 2014 without adding anti-corrosive agents to the water. Lead levels in drinking water supplies increased shortly thereafter.

Experts have meanwhile are worried the media are getting too far ahead of themselves. The numbers are “being horribly exaggerated,” Hernán Gómez, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, and medical toxicologist at Hurley Medical Center, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in September 2018.

Blood lead levels (BLL) are no higher in Flint than in other cities across Michigan, said Gómez, who noted that there is no acceptable level of lead in drinking water even if there is a level that is considered tolerable.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers a BLL in children of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), and higher to be a “reference level.” The annual percentage of Flint children whose BLLs rose above the reference level increased from 2.2 percent to 3.7 percent, a relatively small uptick given actual lead levels, Gómez noted in a 2018 research paper.

These numbers are small relative to previous decades, with the average toddler in the 1970s holding a BLL of 14 µg/dL, a number three times higher than the reference level. Those numbers fell to 0.84 µg/dL by 2014 following a government ban on lead in paint and gasoline in 1971. Children with blood lead levels of 5 µg/dL or higher dropped in Flint from 11.8 percent in 2006 to 3.2 percent in 2016.

CDC recommends treatment for people with BLLs at or above 45 µg/dL.

The EPA has not yet responded to TheDNCF’s request for comment.

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