Update: Companies respond to lawsuit in Flint water crisis

Posted at 10:43 AM, Jun 22, 2016

FLINT, Mich. — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced a civil lawsuit in Genesee County Wednesday against two companies for their roles in the Flint water crisis.

The lawsuits were filed against water engineering services corporations Veolia and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman (LAN) for professional negligence and fraud, which, according to Schuette, caused the lead poisoning crisis to continue and worsen.

Schuette and Special Assistant Attorney General Noah Hall, who is an environmental law expert who joined the investigation earlier in 2016, said the suit was filed to hold Veolia and LAN accountable.

“Many things went tragically wrong in Flint, and both criminal conduct and civil conduct caused harm to the families of Flint and to the taxpayers of Michigan,” said Schuette in a press statement.

“In Flint, Veolia and LAN were hired to do a job and failed miserably. Their fraudulent and dangerous recommendations made a bad situation worse.”

The suit alleges Veolia and LAN either knew, or should have known, that high chloride levels in the Flint River water would cause corrosion in lead pipes unless treated and that the companies ignored warning signs, including reports of brown water from citizens.  The suit also alleges that the companies violated the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.  Veolia is also alleged to have committed fraud for making false and misleading statements regarding the safety of Flint’s drinking water. The suit could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Veolia is a multinational company.  LAN is based in Houston, Texas.  The companies have 28 days to respond.

Schuette says that more charges, both criminal and civil, are likely.

Wednesday afternoon, the companies responded saying they’re deeply disappointed and will vigorously defend themselves.

Veolia North America says it was hired nearly a year after Flint began using the Flint River as a water source. The company says its job was to deal with discoloration, taste and issues unrelated to lead.

LAN says Attorney General Bill Schuette has “blatantly mischaracterized” LAN’s role in Flint. It says it had nothing to do with operating the water plant or failing to add corrosion control to the water.

The lack of corrosion control caused lead to leach from old pipes and fixtures, poisoning the water system. Flint stopped using the Flint River last fall after 18 months.

In April, Schuette filed the first criminal charges related to the crisis against two state officials and one Flint city employee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.