A federal judge on Tuesday approved a $97 million settlement in a lawsuit over drinking water contamination in the US city of Flint, Michigan, requiring that all lead pipes be replaced.
The agreement comes almost three years after lead first began to contaminate the drinking water of the hard-scrabble Midwestern city near the US automotive capital of Detroit, due to a switch to a more corrosive water source that had not been properly treated to protect aging underground pipes.
The lead contamination, initially denied by state and local officials, poisoned thousands of children. The tainted water caused the deaths of 12 people from Legionnaire's disease, officials said.
According to the state's top law enforcement official who is now investigating the crisis, a $200-a-day water treatment would have prevented the lead leaching.
The settlement requires that all of Flint's lead and galvanized steel pipes be replaced within three years. The state must also guarantee the availability of water filters through 2018 and provide bottled water at least until September.
US District Court Judge David Lawson will monitor the settlement's implementation.
"For the first time, there will be an enforceable commitment to get the lead pipes out of the ground. The people of Flint are owed at least this much," said Dimple Chaudhary, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The NRDC is one of the groups that brought the lawsuit along with Flint area pastors and the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Flint resident Melissa Mays was also a party to the suit.
"This is a win for the people of Flint," Mays said in a statement. "The greatest lesson I've learned from Flint's water crisis is that change only happens when you get up and make your voice heard."
Almost half of the money in the settlement will come directly from the state of Michigan, with the rest allocated by the US Congress.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder supported the settlement, saying it was the best path forward for Flint.
"While the settlement provides for commitments to many different resources, the state will continue striving to work on many priorities to ensure the city of Flint has a positive future," Snyder said in a statement.
Thirteen current and former government officials have been criminally charged in the ongoing investigation of the handling of the water crisis and the decisions that caused it.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has also sued two water engineering companies, the French firm Veolia and the Texas-based Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, claiming they failed to prevent or properly address the crisis.
The two companies have denied wrongdoing.
© 2017 AFP