(CN) - With lead contamination making the water in Flint, Mich., unsafe to drink for nearly two years, the American Civil Liberties Union and others filed a federal complaint Wednesday that aims to force action by the state.
Joining the ACLU of Michigan and two other groups as plaintiffs in the 58-page action is Melissa Mays, a Flint resident who said she has been struggling since 2014 to keep her family safe from the elevated levels of lead in Flint's water supply.
"The water in Flint, Michigan is not safe to drink," the complaint states. "It has not been safe to drink since April 2014, when city and state officials began using the Flint River as a source of drinking water and caused lead to leach into the city's water supply."
Mays, the ACLU and the others say Flint and Michigan officials have failed to comply with the federal law that requires cities to give the public safe drinking water.
"The Safe Drinking Water Act directs officials who operate water systems to test drinking water for harmful contaminants and to treat the water to control for those contaminants," the complaint states. "City and state officials' complete disregard for those requirements is exposing the people of Flint to lead, a powerful toxin that is devastating to the human body."
Flint's lead water crisis began when the city's emergency manager took the cost-cutting measure in 2014 switched Flint's drinking-water source from Lake Huron to the heavily polluted Flint River.
Gov. Rick Snyder appointed the manager in 2011 after declaring a financial emergency in the city.
A textbook rustbelt city, Flint has struggled since the decline of the auto industry in the United States. More than 40 percent of Flint residents live below the poverty line, and a quarter of them are unemployed.
"When run through the city's aging metallic pipes, the corrosive Flint River water ate away at those pipes, causing lead to leach into drinking water," according to the complaint. "In the past two years, the percentage of Flint children with elevated levels of lead in their blood has doubled and in some areas has nearly tripled."
General Motors stopped using Flint River water in its plants in 2014 after workers noticed the water corroded engine parts.
And in at least one Flint home, researchers found lead levels in the water that exceeded the level classified as hazardous waste.
ACLU attorney Michael Steinberg says state officials disregarded researchers' findings that the water contained toxic levels of lead until resident's complaints made national news.
Though Flint switched back to using water from Lake Huron, "the damage done to city pipes from the Flint River water means that lead will continue to contaminate Flint's drinking water," according to the complaint.
"This contamination poses an ongoing health risk to the city's residents, especially young children, who are most vulnerable to the effects of lead," the suit continues.
Mays and the institutional plaintiffs seek an order requiring the government to fully replace all lead water lines at no cost to Flint residents, and to implement a monitoring program to report on levels of lead and copper in the water system.
"Flint is Exhibit A for what happens when a state suspends democracy and installs unaccountable bean counters to run a city," the ACLU's Steinberg said in a statement. "In a failed attempt to save a few bucks, state-appointed officials poisoned the drinking water of an important American city, causing permanent damage to an entire generation of its children. The people of Flint cannot trust the state of Michigan to fix this man-made disaster and that is why court oversight is critically needed."
Concerned Pastors for Social Action is named as a co-plaintiff to the complaint, as is the Natural Resources Defense Council.
NRDC attorney Dimple Chaudhary also signed the complaint, which names as defendants Michigan Secretary of Treasury Nick Khouri, the city of Flint and six members of the Chairperson of the Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Board.
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