Lawyers file $220 million damage claim against EPA in Flint water crisis

(Reuters) - Lawyers for residents of Flint, Michigan, have filed a $220.2 million damages claim alleging negligence on the part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contributed to dangerous lead levels in the city’s water supply.

Demonstrators protest over the Flint, Michigan contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, March 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook -

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Michael Pitt said his firm Royal Oak, Michigan’s Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers, along with others, had filed an administrative complaint on Monday with the EPA alleging injuries to over 500 people. They said they would file a similar complaint next week covering 250 more Flint residents.

Federal law requires that such complaints be filed as precursors to actual lawsuits against government agencies like the EPA.

The complaint comes days after two Michigan state officials and a Flint employee were charged with criminal offenses in the crisis.

Flint was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in April 2014 when it switched its source of water from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River to save money.

The river water was more corrosive than the Detroit system’s and caused more lead to leach from its aging pipes. Lead can be toxic and children are especially vulnerable. The city switched back in October after blood tests found lead in some children.

According to the complaint, the EPA should be held liable for acts and omissions of its employees, citing an email from agency water expert Miguel Del Toral to a regional chief in June 2015 that said it would border on criminal neglect not to warn Flint residents about widespread lead contamination.

The complaint alleges past and future personal injury claims ranging from lead poisoning, rashes, hair loss, deprivation of quality of life, as well as economic losses and lost earnings.

The EPA will review the complaint, an agency spokesman said.

“If the EPA had followed the advice of its own expert, many of the injuries to the people of Flint could have been avoided or minimized,” Pitt said on Tuesday.

Pitt’s group has brought class actions in county, state and federal courts for Flint residents in addition to Monday’s administrative complaint.

Del Toral as early as February 2015 told the EPA it was questionable whether the state or city were using required corrosion controls on the Flint River water.

One resident, Jan Burgess, reported in October 2014 a major violation to the EPA stemming from the water switchover, which was not investigated until earlier in April, the complaint said.

Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Anthony Lin and Marguerita Choy