Michigan sues companies linked to Flint water crisis

By Martin Smith
Flint residents continue to use bottled water after the drinking water was found to be contaminated with lead after the water source was switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in April, 2014. Photo by Molly Riley/UPI
Flint residents continue to use bottled water after the drinking water was found to be contaminated with lead after the water source was switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in April, 2014. Photo by Molly Riley/UPI | License Photo

FLINT, Mich., June 22 (UPI) -- The Michigan attorney general filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a water company and an engineering firm, plus several other related businesses, in connection with the Flint water crisis.

In court papers, he accuses the companies in question of "acts and omission" that "constitute professional negligence, fraud and public nuisance."


Altogether seven corporate defendants are named in Attorney General Bill Schuette's lawsuit, all of which have links to two companies that did work for the City of Flint, according to court records seen by the Detroit Free Press.

The civil lawsuit accuses the firms of causing "the Flint Water Crisis to occur, continue and worsen."

Among the companies listed as defendants are Veolia North America, Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. and Leo A. Daly Co., LAN's parent company.

The attorney general's office alleges that the city of Flint and state of Michigan hired the firms for their expertise but "as a result of the defendant corporations' acts and omissions, Flint's lead pipes corroded, leaching lead into residents' drinking water, ultimately poisoning the residents themselves."


The 24-page lawsuit says that the companies had a legal responsibility to act with a level of care and competence befitting their industry's professional standard.

"The defendant corporations knew or should have known that high chloride levels in the Flint River would make the water corrosive without significant treatment, and that the corrosion would result in dangerous levels of lead for residents served by the City's many lead pipes," the attorney general's office states in its court filing.

According to the lawsuit, the companies ignored information that a professional engineer would see as a cause for concern, most notably the addition of ferric chloride to the water supply. The attorney general's office also accuses Veolia of fraud in its interim 2015 report indicating that the city's water was safe.

In 2011, then Flint Mayor Dayne Walling commissioned LAN to conduct a feasibility study to see whether the city could use the Flint River as a water source and treat the water locally through a city water treatment plant.

Then in 2013, LAN was employed again at a cost of $171,000 to help the city start up its use of the Flint River water, the lawsuit states.

But according to the attorney general's lawsuit, LAN "failed to meet its duty of care and competence at a professional standard."


It alleges that when the Flint Water Treatment Plant, with upgrades designed and implemented by LAN, began distributing Flint River water in April 2014, it did so without implementation of an adequate corrosion control program.

The lawsuit also claims that water consulting company Veolia, which was hired by the city in February 2015, stated that there was "no health or safety problem," despite complaints from residents about discoloration. It accuses the company of making the findings "recklessly without any knowledge of the potential truth."

Furthermore, a report by Veolia in March "not only missed the problem, its root cause, and the public health implications, it also offered recommendations that made the problem worse." It recommended an additional dosage of ferric chloride, a powerful acid, to the water, a move the attorney general's office alleges was "unqualified and in no way warned that ferric chloride could increase corrosion."

Texas-based company LAN, which has a Flint office, made no mention in an August 2013 engineering report of the need for corrosion control chemicals in treating Flint River water. The lack of those chemicals has been cited as the reason lead was able to leach into drinking water.

But a LAN spokesman has said it was the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, not the company, that said corrosion control chemicals were not needed.


The Detroit Free Press reported in January that a March 2015 consultant's report from Veolia, a multinational environmental consulting firm, recommended spending $50,000 to add corrosion control chemicals to Flint's drinking water because iron was leaching from the pipes and turning the water brown. But the city didn't act on the recommendation at the time, which was well after the lead leaching problem began.

The attorney general's lawsuit comes after he announced in April felony criminal charges against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and a City of Flint official.

City employee Mike Glasgow pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and is said to be cooperating with the investigation after other charges were dropped. Two DEQ employees, Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby, are still being processed by prosecutors.

In April, more than 500 families revealed that they were suing the Environmental Protection Agency for $220 million as compensation for personal injuries and property damage.

Earlier this month it was estimated that it could take eight years and $216 million to replace 10,000 lead pipes and fix the contaminated water system in Flint.

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