Whitmer: $600M Flint water deal a step toward making amends

FILE - In this March 21, 2016, file photo, the Flint Water Plant water tower is seen in Flint, Mich. Multiple news outlets report Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, that the state of Michigan has reached a $600 million agreement to compensate Flint residents whose health was damaged by lead-tainted drinking water. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
FILE - In this March 21, 2016, file photo, the Flint Water Plant water tower is seen in Flint, Mich. Multiple news outlets report Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, that the state of Michigan has reached a $600 million agreement to compensate Flint residents whose health was damaged by lead-tainted drinking water. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LANSING, Mich. – A $600 million deal between the state of Michigan and Flint residents who were harmed by lead-tainted water is a step toward making amends for a disaster that upended life in the poor, majority-Black city, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday.

State officials and lawyers for Flint residents announced the settlement, which Attorney General Dana Nessel said likely would be the largest in Michigan history, with tens of thousands of potential claimants. It's designed primarily to benefit children, who were most vulnerable to the debilitating effects of lead that fouled drinking water after Flint switched its source to save money in 2014 while under supervision of a state financial manager.

City workers followed state environmental officials' advice not to use anti-corrosive additives. Without those treatments, water from the Flint River scraped lead from aging pipes and fixtures, contaminating tap water.

The disaster made Flint a nationwide symbol of governmental mismanagement, with residents of the city of nearly 100,000 lining up for bottled water and parents fearful their children had suffered permanent harm. A criminal investigation that has resulted in only misdemeanor no-contest pleas so far was resumed last year.

“What happened in Flint should have never happened, and financial compensation with this settlement is just one of the many ways we can continue to show our support for the city of Flint and its families," Whitmer, a Democrat, said.

Several judges must approve the agreement, which is intended to resolve all claims against the state. Residents can decline to take part and file separate lawsuits, but attorneys involved in the negotiations said they would urge their clients to participate.

"It’s not perfect. But it is fair, it’s reasonable, it’s equitable,” said attorney Michael Pitt.

Suits also have been filed against the city, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and two engineering consulting firms. They could join the state settlement by contributing agreed-on sums to the $600 million compensation fund.