US judge approves $626 million settlement for thousands of residents affected by Flint water crisis

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A judge has approved a $626 million (£467 million) settlement after tens of thousands of people in Flint, Michigan, sued the state after their drinking water was tainted by lead. 

The money will be available to every Flint child who was exposed to the water, every adult who can show an injury, certain business owners, and anyone who paid water bills - regardless of whether they were part of a class-action lawsuit or sued the state on their own.

"The settlement reached here is a remarkable achievement for many reasons, not the least of which is that it sets forth a comprehensive compensation program and timeline that is consistent for every qualifying participant," US District Judge Judith Levy said in a 178-page decision.

Ted Leopold, one of the lead attorneys in the litigation added: "This is a historic and momentous day for the residents of Flint, who will finally begin to see justice served."

Attorneys are seeking as much as $200 million (£149 million) in legal fees from the overall settlement, but Judge Levy left that issue for another day.

Corey Stern, another key lawyer in the case, said he represented "many brave kids who did not deserve the tragedy put on them".

$600 million (£447 million) of the money will come from the state of Michigan, which was repeatedly accused of overlooking the risk of switching Flint's water source.

The state agreed to the settlement last year after Michigan officials spent nearly two years negotiating with lawyers representing residents of the city.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission has previously said "systemic racism" was at the core of the water crisis in the majority-black city.

One of the country's worst public health disasters, problems with Flint's water first began in 2014 after the city switched its supply to the Flint River from Lake Huron to cut costs.

Corrosive river water caused lead to leach from the pipes, tainting drinking water and causing a Legionnaires outbreak.

Flint switched back to Lake Huron the following year after Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha publicly reported elevated lead levels in children.

In January last year, former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was charged with misdemeanours, and his health director and other ex-officials also charged with various misdemeanours and felonies after a new investigation into the scandal.

Flint will pay $20 million (£15 million) toward the settlement, while McLaren Health is paying $5 million (£3.7 million) and engineering firm Rowe Professional Services $1.25 million (£930,000).

Court records said more than 25,000 people had been harmed through exposure to contaminants in Flint, including more than 5,000 children younger than 12.

"What happened in Flint should never have happened, and no amount of money can completely compensate people for what they have endured," Governor Gretchen Whitmer - who was elected in 2018 - said on Wednesday.

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