Residents of the northern U.S. city of Flint, Michigan, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state’s governor and others alleging gross negligence for causing the city’s drinking water to become contaminated with lead.
The group of seven residents filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court seeking damages for thousands of Flint residents who suffered physical or economic injuries.
The suit names Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and other current and former government officials, as well as corporations, for their role in the water crisis.
It accuses them of gross negligence, which is an exception to the immunity that lawmakers generally are granted for performing official duties.
A spokesman for Snyder said the administration is not commenting on pending legislation, but said the governor is staying focused on finding solutions for Flint.
Michigan’s slow response to the water crisis in Flint was a big topic at the Democratic presidential debate Sunday with both candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, calling for Snyder’s resignation.
Flint, with a population of about 100,000, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its water source in April 2014 from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The new, more corrosive water supply caused lead to leach from city pipes into the drinking water.
Over the ensuing months, the city’s residents complained about the odd, brownish color of the water and its taste. Tests later found that lead was in the bloodstreams of more than 200 children. Lead contamination in children is especially debilitating, causing developmental delays, learning disabilities and aggressive behavior.
City and state officials are pointing the blame at each other. The state-appointed emergency manager who oversaw the switch to the new water source blames the decision on the city council. City officials, conversely, are blaming the emergency manager.
Michigan’s attorney general has launched an investigation into the contamination crisis, and so has the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. One state investigator said charges as serious as manslaughter could be brought if drinking the toxic water causes any deaths.