Nearly three years after a toxic scandal bubbled to the surface in Flint, Michigan, the city remains in a water crisis. And while the government continues to fail to provide a long-term solution to the still-unfolding public health impacts from the lead-tainted water, the crisis that began with first signs of lead exposure surfaced in 2015 has started to spur legal action to ensure a fair recovery process for local children—and perhaps seed a national model for redressing mass public health harms.
A new legal settlement between Flint’s children and local school authorities will establish an unprecedented medical screening program for the entire impacted community. The initial $4.1 million investment mandated by the newly announced agreement represents the beginning of what may be a generations-long process of monitoring and treating the survivors, establishing legal channels for treatment and benefits for affected youth and families, and most importantly, ensuring that future generations are protected.
The partial settlement in the ongoing litigation was negotiated by attorneys representing children in the affected area, and the agreement could potentially encompass tens of thousands of local youth. According to one of the leading organizations behind the litigation, Education Law Center, the program will build on an existing health registry program in Flint that currently monitors the whole resident population. Additional services will be provided by the Genesee Health System and Hurley Children’s Hospital Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence.
Aiming to lay the groundwork for a longer-term health program, the settlement—which coincides with a new water infrastructure reform bill in Congress—provides children with universally screening, along with referral for deeper medical examinations as needed, including neuropsychological testing to gauge cognitive and mental development. The Michigan Department of Education, Genesee Intermediate School District and Flint Community Schools will conduct public outreach through the schools to evaluate their need for special education services.
For public education advocates, the settlement marks a meaningful but partial victory for school children. With the announcement of the settlement, Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, stated, “At the core of this case is the legal standard that children with disabilities—such as those with lead poisoning—must receive the same education and support guaranteed to others.”