DETROIT—Jurors heard closing arguments Thursday in the only trial to arise thus far from the Flint water crisis, a dispute over whether two engineering firms should be held partially responsible for the city’s lead contamination in 2014-15.
Attorneys representing four Flint children said Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, known as LAN, didn’t do enough to get the city to treat the highly corrosive water or to urge a return to a regional water supplier.
Veolia and LAN, which performed work for Flint, were not part of a landmark $626 million settlement involving Flint residents, the state of Michigan and other parties.
Flint’s water became contaminated because water pulled from the Flint River wasn’t treated to reduce the corrosive effect on lead pipes.
Citing cost, city managers appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder stopped using water from a Detroit agency and switched to the river while awaiting a new pipeline to Lake Huron.
One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Moishe Maimon, told jurors that Veolia should be held 50% responsible for the lead contamination of the four children and that LAN should be held 25% responsible, with public officials making up the balance.
Veolia, also known as VNA, was a “second set of eyes” brought in a year after the water switch while complaints about water quality were mounting, Maimon said.
Co-counsel Corey Stern said the contractors didn’t want to rock the boat.
“Did VNA and LAN act with integrity? Did VNA and LAN act to protect the health, safety and general welfare?” he said.
But LAN attorney Wayne Mason said an engineer repeatedly recommended that Flint test the river water for weeks to determine what treatments would be necessary.
He said outside engineers were getting lumped in with a “platoon of bad actors,” namely state and local officials who controlled all major decisions and seemed more concerned about the cost of water than its quality.
“Every single government agency that touched this problem made it worse,” Mason said.
Veolia attorney Daniel Stein said the firm was briefly hired in the middle of the crisis, not before the spigot was turned on. He also questioned whether the children actually were poisoned by lead in the water, citing blood results.
“VNA was there for one week — a one-week assessment — and you’re supposed to believe the fault lies with this consultant?” Stein argued.
Snyder was summoned as a witness but declined to answer questions, citing his right against self-incrimination. He was indicted on misdemeanor charges in a separate Flint water investigation.
The jury instead watched a video of Snyder’s 2020 interview with lawyers.
“I wish this never would have happened,” he said of the water mess, acknowledging mistakes by government.
Monday will be the first full day of jury deliberations in federal court in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The trial began in February and lasted months with occasional days off.
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