The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis: Legal Resources for Residents
From 2014 to 2016, over 100,000 residents of Flint, Michigan were exposed to harmful levels of lead in their drinking water. Since the inception of the Flint water crisis, some 50,000 residents who were exposed to the harmful heavy metal neurotoxin are left without legal representation in their fight for justice and compensation. Moved by a perceived lack of action as the national media spotlight moved away from the issue, and by the fact that a majority of those affected by the crisis are lower-income, minorities, or both, social justice attorney Ben Crump has held several rallies in the city and continues to focus on providing legal and material aid to the affected residents.
Origins of the Water Crisis
Flint, Michigan was once a prosperous city that boasted wealth and jobs, many of which were in General Motors (GM) factories producing top-quality vehicles. Wages were some of the highest than virtually anywhere in the United States, and the community enjoyed national recognition. Over time, however, factories were closed and jobs were lost with the downsizing of GM in the 1980’s, and Flint faded into the background hum of middle-class America. With the loss of income and job opportunities, many residents fled the city, and in 2011 the state of Michigan itself looked for ways to cut costs on behalf of the City of Flint due to an audit of the city’s finances which estimated a $25 million deficit.
The most notorious cost-cutting “solution” the City of Flint enacted (which was meant to be a temporary solution while a new pipeline was in progress) was to switch the drinking water supply from its previous source of treated Lake Huron and Detroit River waters at the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, to water from the Flint River. Failing to include corrosion inhibitors, eventually the water became contaminated with lead from the city’s aging pipe infrastructure. In fact, tests performed by the EPA in 2015 indicated water in residents’ homes reached dangerous and extreme proportions.
Lead leaking into a city’s water supply is a serious issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the effects of lead exposure are most devastating in children, who can suffer from stunted development, nerve and nervous system problems, and even reduced IQ and school performance due to brain damage and impaired cognition. To make matters worse, populations that are poor and predominantly non-Hispanic African-Americans are at an increased risk for toxic lead exposure.
Ben Crump’s Efforts
In 2019, with the help of the Pintas & Mullins team, attorney Ben Crump turned his firm’s attention to seeking justice for the families and children of Flint. He held several rallies that were attended by over 100 individuals still awaiting justice for their city’s inadvertent poisoning of their bodies. Perhaps even more impactfully, Crump went on a “listening tour” of the city, during which he was able to hear directly from residents about just how much the crisis has affected their bodies, homes, and daily lives. By connecting with the community and learning more about the situation, Crump developed a plan to help the impoverished and predominantly African-American community of Flint recover. Crump is best known as the former legal representative for the families of African-American victims’ fatal shootings: Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, Trayvon Martin of Miami Gardens, Florida, and Botham Jean of Dallas, Texas.
Crump hosted numerous community gatherings where his firm offered a sign-up sheet for children under the age of 19 to get free bone lead testing in effort to educate the community so on the extent of its citizens’ damages and also provided free cases of bottled water to all attendees.
“We want to make sure you are empowered to control the destiny of your city, of your community, of your family, and the future of your children,” Crump said. Over 3,000 people took up the call to arms and signed up with the legal team of Ben Crump. As time moves on, the city looks toward its legal options in an effort to rebuild and to remind the nation of one key fact that residents regularly chanted at the community gatherings: “Flint Lives Matter”.