Environmental Law

Michigan suit accuses two companies of giving negligent advice on Flint water

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Flint Michigan sign

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has sued a water company and an engineering firm, along with five related companies, for their alleged role in the Flint water crisis.

The suit filed on Wednesday says the companies were hired for their expertise, but as a result of the companies’ negligence, “Flint’s lead pipes corroded, leaching lead into residents’ drinking water, ultimately poisoning the residents themselves.” The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News have stories.

The two main companies named in the suit are Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, referred to as LAN. The suit alleges the companies’ conduct constituted a public nuisance and amounted to negligence. The suit also alleges Veolia committed fraud by making false representations about the safety of Flint’s drinking water.

Flint had hired LAN to study the feasibility of using the Flint River for its water supply and to work on a project to upgrade the water plant to handle the water. The upgrades did not include a corrosion control program for the pipes, according to the suit. After the water was found to contain contaminants, a LAN report “failed to identify the root cause” of the problem, which could include pipe corrosion, the suit alleges.

Veolia was hired as a water quality consultant in 2015 amid growing concerns about Flint’s water. It issued an interim report in February 2015 asserting that the water complied with drinking water standards, and discoloration of the water doesn’t mean it is unsafe. Responding to questions about medical problems, the report said that “some people may be sensitive to any water.”

The suit claims “the state of Michigan suffered terribly” as a result of Veolia’s “fraudulent statements” about the safety of the water. The company suggested in a report the following month that phosphate could be added to the water to address discoloration, with no mention of the far more serious lead problem, the suit says. The company also recommended additional ferric chloride, a powerful acid that could increase corrosion, the suit says.

LAN also recommended treating the water with additional ferric chloride, the suit says.

Schuette previously announced criminal charges related to the water crisis against two state regulators and a Flint utility official. All three are charged with evidence tampering for alleged manipulation of reports on lead in the water.

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