Judge OKs $626 million settlement in Flint water crisis

A Michigan judge approved a $626 million settlement for thousands of people in Flint, Mich. whose water was contaminated with lead, describing the agreement as a "remarkable achievement."

The settlement will be paid to city residents, with most of the money being given to children who were affected by the contamination, but some also going to the adult population. 

The vast majority of the settlement will be paid by the state of Michigan. The rest will be paid out by the city of Flint, McLaren hospitals and a company called Rowe Professional Services. 

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“The settlement reached here is a remarkable achievement for many reasons, not the least of which is that it sets forth a comprehensive compensation program and timeline that is consistent for every qualifying participant, regardless of whether they are members of a class or are non-class individuals represented by their own counsel,” U.S. District Judge Judith Levy said in a 178-page court ruling on Wednesday.

Flint’s drinking water was contaminated after the source of their water supply was shifted from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014. The water wasn't adequately treated and this caused lead from pipes to leach into the city’s drinking water. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this exposed approximately 99,000 residents to lead, which has been linked to a number of health issues, and has a greater impact on children than adults. 

Short-term lead poisoning has been linked to kidney and brain damage, while longer-term exposure may put people at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility.

The water source switch has also been linked to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

The settlement was preliminarily approved in January, but Wednesday's news represented a more formal approval. 

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It has met some resistance from some city residents, including adults who have argued that the fact that about 80 percent of the compensation will go to minors is unfair. 

Levy addressed that objection in her filing, noting the disproportionate harm of lead exposure on children. 

"It is fair, reasonable, and adequate to award a greater proportion of settlement funds to those who are most vulnerable to the effects of lead and other contaminants," she wrote. 

City residents have also argued that the compensation isn't sufficient in general. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerVirginia's Youngkin gets the DeSantis treatment from media Overnight Health Care — Another Texas abortion setback Whitmer releases plan to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050 MORE (D) called the settlement "an important step forward in the process of helping Flint heal."

"What happened in Flint should never have happened, and no amount of money can completely compensate people for what they have endured,” she added in a statement. 

“We hope this settlement helps the healing continue as we keep working to make sure that people have access to clean water in Flint and communities all across Michigan."

Corey Stern, a lawyer representing many of the children impacted by the crisis, praised the settlement, but noted that similar issues persist in the U.S.

“Although this is a significant victory for Flint, we have a ways to go in stopping Americans from being systematically poisoned in their own homes, schools, and places of work," Stern said in a statement.

There is also a separate criminal case over the water switch in which city and state officials, including former Gov. Rick Snyder (R), have been charged. 

The settlement approval does not impact the criminal case. 

Michigan is currently dealing with another water crisis in Benton Harbor, another largely low-income, Black community.

—Updated on Nov. 11 at 10:27 a.m.