By Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio
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A federal trial is underway to decide if engineering firms that advised the city of Flint on water issues bear some responsibility for the city’s water crisis.
The case involves four Flint children alleging permanent damage from drinking water contaminated with lead after the city stopped using Detroit’s water system and switched to Flint River water instead.
In opening statements on Monday, plaintiffs’ attorney Corey Stern said engineering firms LAN and Veolia (which is called VNA in court documents) failed to tell the city and state to use chemicals to control corrosion to keep lead from leaching out of pipes. The companies performed consulting work for Flint in 2014 and 2015, before and during the switch.
“LAN and VNA did not act reasonably,” Stern told jurists in federal district court in Ann Arbor, “and our four clients were forever hurt as a result of those failures. No one is going to say what happened is all their fault, but there is a ton of responsibility to go around.”
Stern argued the companies had multiple opportunities to include the necessity of corrosion control measures in the reports they provided to the city. He said internal emails show they were aware of potential lead contamination issues.
But according to defense attorney Dan Stein, “the Flint water crisis is a story of massive government failure, pure and simple.”
He told the jury the city provided false data indicating there was no lead problem, and the companies did verbally advise officials to add corrosion control measures, but the advice was ignored.
The jury trial is expected to last approximately four months and involve testimony from scores of witnesses. It is called a bellwether trial because it could predict how other plaintiffs might fair if they also sued the same defendants over similar claims.
There’s already been a $626-million settlement of civil claims against the state of Michigan, City of Flint, McLaren Regional Hospital, and engineering firm Rowe Professional Services.
A lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its role in the water crisis is also proceeding.
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Featured image: Flint schoolchildren. (Photo Credit: Kate Wells/Michigan radio)