Getting justice for Flint after water crisis
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Nearly seven years after Flint’s water crisis began, the families of my hometown will finally have their day in court.

Last week, Michigan Attorney General’s office announced indictments against nine state officials, including former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. High-level state officials, including the state’s former health director and two of Flint’s emergency managers, also face criminal charges. The charges come after 100,000 people in Flint were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water and an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease killed at least 12 people and sickened many others.

Justice for Flint families comes in many forms, including holding state officials accountable for what they did to Flint. While we should never pre-judge the outcome of criminal charges, I applaud prosecutors Kym Worthy and Fadwa Hammoud for re-opening the Flint water crisis investigation and following the facts, wherever they may lead. No one is above the law.

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By now, most Americans know the story of the Flint water crisis. State officials, obsessed with austerity, switched Flint’s water source to save money. The same officials also failed to treat the city’s water properly, resulting in dangerously high levels of lead leaching into the homes of 100,000 residents.

Almost immediately, Flint families recognized there was a problem. But state officials dismissed them, telling them to just “relax” and that their drinking water was safe, even though they knew it was not. When heroes like Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha spoke up to sound the alarm on high lead levels, state officials dismissed her concerns.

This fateful decision to switch the source of Flint’s drinking is one of the greatest environmental injustices in our lifetimes. Lead is a potent neurotoxin. Lead causes serious permanent damage, especially to young children under six with developing brains, that can lead to developmental delays, dyslexia and behavioral problems.

Justice certainly comes for Flint by holding state officials accountable for their actions that led to this man-made crisis. But it’s important to recognize that justice for the people of Flint also comes in other forms.

Justice comes for Flint by replacing every lead service line in our water systems. In Flint, this work continues. In 2016, I worked with President Obama and a Republican-controlled Congress to provide $170 million to help Flint remove and replace lead pipes. But across the country, millions of lead service lines remain a threat to public health. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, 9.3 million American homes still have lead pipes. We must move faster to get rid of the lead in our water systems. At the federal level, we must strengthen the outdated Lead and Copper Rule.

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Justice comes for Flint by compensating victims. While there will never be any amount of money that adequately recognizes the harm done to Flint families, a settlement of class-action lawsuits is an acknowledgment of the massive failures during this crisis. A $640 million settlement has passed Michigan’s state Legislature and is awaiting approval from a U.S. federal judge.

Justice comes for Flint by ensuring families have access to lead-mitigating resources. Critical health care, educational and nutritional resources should be available to every Flint family that can help them live healthy and productive lives. That’s the goal of the Flint Registry. This critical health system is playing a major role in Flint’s recovery and has already referred thousands of people to health care, nutrition, early childhood education programs like Head Start and other resources. Congress established the Flint Registry in 2016 and I was able to secure $4.5 million this year for its continued operation. Especially as Flint families now face the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, support for the Flint Registry is even more important now.

While this water crisis began nearly seven years ago, it’s important to recognize it’s not over. Flint families deserve our continued support. We also owe it to other communities across the country to learn the lessons of the Flint water crisis, so this failure of government never happens elsewhere.

Kildee represents Michigan’s 5th District, which includes Flint.