ACLU of Michigan and Education Law Center Call on State to Protect Schoolchildren from Effects of Flint Water Crisis
DETROIT– The state of Michigan has failed to take adequate steps to ensure safe drinking water in all Flint public school buildings, the ACLU of Michigan announced today during a media briefing in Detroit.
The ACLU of Michigan and Education Law Center also released today a letter sent on January 5th to the Michigan Attorney General’s office calling for prompt action by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to protect the health and safety of thousands of children who attend school in Flint Community School (FCS) buildings, along with teachers, staff and parents who work in and visit those buildings every day.
In addition, noting the “Flint Water Summit” scheduled in Chicago tomorrow by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan DEQ, Flint community leaders and medical and technical experts say the State has not made public sufficient data to conclude that the Flint city water is safe to drink for all residents.
“After all we have been through in Flint, we need solid answers,” said Rev. Rigel Dawson, pastor at Flint’s North Central Church of Christ. “We are struggling to survive every day without clean water. Of course we want our taps turned on again – but not before we can be sure the water is safe for everyone to drink.”
Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said that state officials have not provided up-to-date results of water testing and lead remediation efforts in all FCS school buildings. Until recently, the state’s public website did not have testing results for most schools past October of 2015, even though water quality tests have been carried out in multiple locations during the spring and fall of 2016.
“The state has kept parents, teachers and staff in the dark for months,” said Moss. “And the doors are closed for tomorrow’s meeting in Chicago. The state continues its wrong-headed approach when it’s essential to rebuild trust in public institutions that have caused an ongoing catastrophe for tens of thousands of people.”
The ACLU of Michigan and Education Law Center have obtained recent data on water testing in Flint Community Schools through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and after filing D.R. v Michigan State Department of Education in October. The lawsuit seeks to overhaul the provision of special education services to FCS students and children who are at risk of a disability from lead poisoning
Lead levels in the water in some schools have been reduced after fixtures were replaced and filters installed, said Moss. The data made public still show high lead levels at several FCS buildings, including the Flint Central Kitchen, Durant-Tuuri Mott Elementary School and Northwestern High School.
“If the state has more recent tests that show better results, let’s see them,” said Moss. “If not, they need to fix these buildings right away to protect children from further harm.”
Laura Sullivan, PhD, a professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering University and a member of the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, will attend tomorrow’s “Water Quality Summit” in Chicago. It is too soon, she said, to know whether Flint water is safe to drink.
"Water samples haven’t been collected over a long enough period of time to know whether Flint water is now, and that it will continue to be safe to drink, “ said Sullivan. “It’s good to see a few months of tests with reduced levels. But that’s not enough data to be sure that Flint residents won't be exposed to further risk of lead poisoning.”
Interventions for reducing lead levels haven’t been consistently applied across the water system, or throughout the schools, for long enough to know that the water quality is stable, Sullivan explained.
“The quality of the water varies across the city in ways that aren’t predictable, she said.” Hydrant flushing, for example, has allowed sufficient phosphate levels to stabilize a protective coating within Flint water pipes. But hydrant flushing was discontinued when outside temperatures began to drop to below freezing. This will result in changes in water quality, which will require testing and evaluated.”
“As a physician, I don’t have enough information to say that Flint water is safe to drink for all residents,” said Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, the recently retired president and CEO of Mott’s Children Health Center in Flint. “I’m especially concerned about infants, pregnant women, renal disease or diabetes patients and other vulnerable populations.”
“We are facing a public health disaster in Flint that will be with us for decades,” said Reynolds. “An entire population of children was exposed to lead for months on end. We know the effects of lead on child development; many of those children will face learning difficulties. Our schools have to screen those children and follow-up with appropriate services. As far as we can tell, that is not happening – and that breaks my heart for these children and their families.”
In their letter to the Attorney General, the ACLU of Michigan and Education Law Center called on the state to take immediate action, including:
- Instituting protocols for regular testing for lead and copper in all Flint Community School buildings;
- Instituting protocols for maintenance and testing of water filters in all buildings;
- Testing of sinks in school kitchens and bathrooms (These have not been included in previous tests, although they are a potential source of exposure.)
- Instituting a consistent policy for distribution of bottled water in Flint Community Schools and availability of clean water for food preparation.
“The state must immediately put in place a comprehensive action plan to ensure the water supply in all Flint school buildings is lead free,” said David G. Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director. “The State must also be fully open and transparent so students, parents, teachers and administrators can be confident their schools do not pose a threat to their health and well-being.”
In January 2016, attorneys from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit, Concerned Pastors for Social Action v. Khouri, demanding action to ensure safe water for Flint residents under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Plaintiffs won a court order on November 10th requiring the city of Flint and the state of Michigan to ensure proper installation of filters in homes or deliver bottled water to Flint residents. Two months later, neither the city nor the state have complied with the order.
In October, attorneys from the ACLU of Michigan, Education Law Center and the law firm of White & Case filed a related lawsuit, D.R. v. Michigan Department of Education. This legal action calls on the state of Michigan and local school authorities to provide safe conditions in Flint schools and to provide appropriate education services to all students as required by federal civil rights laws.
The ACLU of Michigan is a statewide organization that protects the civil rights and civil liberties of all Michigan residents, with offices in Detroit, Lansing, Flint and Grand Rapids.
Education Law Center, based in Newark, NJ, is a national organization that enforces the education rights of public school children across the country.