DETROIT - A judge on Wednesday approved a $626 million deal to settle lawsuits filed by Flint residents who found their tap water contaminated by lead following disastrous decisions to switch the city's water source and a failure to swiftly acknowledge the problem.
Most of the money -- $600 million -- is coming from the state of Michigan, which was accused of repeatedly overlooking the risks of using the Flint River without properly treating the water.
"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," U.S. District Judge Judith Levy said.
Attorneys are seeking as much as $200 million in legal fees from the overall settlement. Levy left that issue for another day.
The deal makes money available to Flint children who were exposed to the water, adults who can show an injury, certain business owners and anyone who paid water bills. About 80% of what's left after legal fees is earmarked for children.
"This is a historic and momentous day for the residents of Flint, who will finally begin to see justice served," said Ted Leopold, one of the lead attorneys in the litigation.
Corey Stern, another key lawyer in the case, said he represented "many brave kids who did not deserve the tragedy put on them."
Flint managers appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder and regulators in his administration allowed the city to use the Flint River in 2014-15 without treating the water to reduce corrosion. As a result, lead in old pipes broke off and flowed through taps.
There is no safe level of lead. It can harm a child's brain development and cause attention and behavior problems.
Flint switched back to a Detroit regional water agency in fall 2015 after Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha publicly reported elevated lead levels in children.
Some critics said the disaster in the predominantly Black city was an example of environmental racism.
Flint is paying $20 million toward the settlement, while McLaren Health is paying $5 million and an engineering firm, Rowe Professional Services, is paying $1.25 million.
The deal was announced in August 2020 by Attorney General Dana Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, both Democrats, who were elected in 2018 while the litigation was pending.
"What happened in Flint should never have happened, and no amount of money can completely compensate people for what they have endured," Whitmer said Wednesday.