Lead Poisoning Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Contaminated Water From Pipes in Benton Harbor, MI
Residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan have filed a class action lawsuit against state and local officials, after recent sampling of the public’s tap water identified extremely high levels of lead, some of which reaching more than 59 times the allowable limit.
The complaint (PDF) was brought by a group of Benton Harbor residents in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on November 20, accusing the city and state of failing to replace known lead-contaminated water pipes, which have exposed more than 10,000 residents to dangerously high levels of lead in their drinking water for at least three years.
The lawsuit was filed after a report was released by Benton Harbor Community Water Council in October, which found extremely high levels of lead in routine water samples dating back to 2018, leaving thousands of residents exposed to lead levels in the drinking water exceeding 889 parts per billion.
After the report was released, Benton Harbor officials declared a state of emergency and have been providing free bottled water for residents to use for drinking, cooking, bathing and personal hygiene care. The City has publicly announced it will expedite the replacement of lead-tainted water supply lines with the hopes of completing the repair by early 2023.
However, in one of two recently filed lead poisoning class action seeking lawsuits, residents claim the City of Benton Harbor and its regulatory officials knew lead levels in the public drinking water exceeded the acceptable limit set forth under the Safe Water Drinking Act (SDWA) since October 2018, yet failed to implement any of the statutorily mandatory actions.
Symptoms of Lead Poisoning from Drinking Water
Exposure to lead contaminated drinking water is toxic and may cause irreversible brain damage and other serious injuries for children.
The lawsuit claims the city intentionally abandoned its obligations to provide residents safe drinking water, failed to send out any type of adequate public notice and then charged residents for the toxic and lead-contaminated water for three years.
Plaintiff’s claim Benton Harbor residents have suffered from being exposed to toxic lead exposure in drinking water for three years, causing a myriad of irreversible and lifelong health issues.
Several plaintiff’s describe how they and their children have developed medical conditions including chronic headaches, hypertension, learning disabilities, high blood pressure, balding, joint pain, hearing issues, memory loss and other irreversible physical and mental injuries; all alleged to have been caused by constant exposure to lead contaminated drinking water supplied by the city.
Actions brought against the city and its officials include claims of gross negligence, assault, negligent failure to warn, unjust enrichment, mental anguish and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among others.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a 23-page document finding multiple federal code violations at the city’s water plant, which included the lack of basic maintenance records and monitoring water quality.
As a result of the violations, the EPA issued a Unilateral Administrative Order instructing the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to repair filters at the city’s water treatment plant within 15 days, bring the system’s nonoperable continuous monitoring devices to federal standards in seven days, and conduct an independent third party study to identify administrative and operational changes needed. Failure to comply with the EPA’s order would result in fines of nearly $60,000 per day.
In the United States, the most common exposures to lead are from lead-based paint that was used in pre-1978 housing, lead contaminated soil or lead-containing pollutants from industrial sources, and water from old lead pipes and fixtures. Lead-tainted water was the major health concern in Flint, Michigan, in 2016, leading to hundreds of illnesses and other side effects.
Lead exposure during childhood can affect a child’s ability to learn and develop. While routine testing can detect elevated blood lead levels in children, health experts have consistently emphasized there is no safe blood level of lead exposure, and more than half a million children have blood levels considered unsafe.
Lead exposure can lead to neurological, cardiovascular, and endocrine side effects in the body. Exposure to even low levels of lead may play a larger role in heart disease and deaths in the United States.
WilliamJanuary 3, 2022 at 2:14 pm
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