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Michigan attorney general sues 2 companies over Flint water crisis: it was a “botched” job

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Michigan’s attorney general is suing two companies for their involvement in the Flint water crisis.

In a news conference in Flint on Wednesday morning, Bill Schuette disclosed that his office has filed paperwork to bring negligence and public nuisance litigation against both Veolia, a French resource management firm, and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, an engineering corporation based in Texas. Veolia will also face an additional charge of fraud.

"In Flint, Veolia and LAN were hired to do a job and failed miserably," Schuette told reporters. "They failed miserably in their job — basically botched it. [They] didn't stop the water in Flint from being poisoned. They made it worse, that's what they did."

As Vox’s Libby Nelson has explained, the origins of Flint’s water crisis lie in the city’s 2014 decision to switch water supplies. Burdened by bankruptcy and hoping to cut costs, the city started drawing water from the local Flint River in order to avoid purchasing from Detroit’s more expensive supply. However, the municipality failed to take proper corrosion control measures, and eventually the inadequately treated water began leaching lead from the city’s pipes.

According to Schuette, both Veolia and LAN played crucial roles in this lead-up to the environmental disaster:

In the summer of 2013, LAN was hired to operate and help operate the water treatment plant using Flint River. The switch from Lake Huron water to Flint River water occurred on April 25, 2014. ... LAN botched the job, failed to help operate the water treatment plant without any — let me repeat without any — corrosion control program. This meant that lead leached into the water that would go to your home."

As for Veolia, Schuette holds that the firm was hired to assess the condition of Flint’s water only to "misrepresent" that condition to city officials. In addition, Veolia allegedly recommended that Flint treat its water with ferric chloride, a corrosive acid that only further degraded the city’s pipes, causing more lead to enter the water supply. "Veolia made a bad situation worse," Schuette said.

Both Veolia and LAN vigorously deny any wrongdoing

In a statement released Wednesday, Veolia shifted the blame back to the state government, noting that the independent task force hired to investigate the situation did not mention the company in its report but rather focused on numerous state and city failures. Tim Coffey, a spokesperson for LAN, said that the attorney general had "blatantly mischaracterized" the corporation’s role.

LAN and Veolia are just the two most recent parties targeted by litigation in the aftermath of the crisis. Last month, Schuette’s office brought charges against two employees of the state Department of Environmental Quality and one employee of the city of Flint. In addition, the Detroit Free Press has reported that dozens of lawsuits are still pending. In total, cases related to the water crisis could cost taxpayers "millions."

It has been estimated that at least 8,000 children were exposed to lead as a result of the Flint water crisis. There is no biologically safe level of lead ingestion for children.