The U.S. state of Michigan has agreed to replace thousands of home water lines in the city of Flint to settle a lawsuit over a lead-contamination crisis in the city’s water supply.
Under the terms of the deal, Michigan will spend $87 million to replace lead and galvanized-steel water lines to at least 18,000 homes. The state will also continue to operate water distribution centers, providing free bottled water, filters and water-testing kits to residents.
The settlement will be reviewed by a federal judge in Detroit on Tuesday for final approval.
Residents filed the lawsuit last year, arguing that the state had violated the Safe Drinking Water Act. They also accused the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of failing to warn them of the dangers of the toxic water or to take steps to ensure that state and local authorities were addressing the crisis.
Earlier this month, the EPA awarded $100 million for Flint to update its drinking water infrastructure.
Flint’s water supply was tainted for at least 18 months after the city switched its water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure.
The city switched its water supply in 2014 without ensuring that water from the Flint River had been treated with anti-corrosive agents, as required by law. It corroded the city’s old water mains, turning drinking water brown due to iron contamination, and leached lead from smaller pipes that carried water into homes.
In all, nearly 100,000 people were affected by the contaminated water and U.S. federal health officials found that young children in Flint had significantly higher levels of dangerous lead in their blood.
Lead in water supplies can cause profound and permanent health problems, particularly in children whose brains and nervous systems are still developing.
The city returned to its original water source in October 2015.
In December, researchers said that lead levels in the drinking water supply of Flint continued to drop, but urged residents to still filter their water.
The researchers from Virginia Tech said they found no detectable levels of lead in 57 percent of homes during the latest round of tests in the city.
Scientist Marc Edwards, who first revealed Flint’s high lead levels in 2015, said the current lead levels in Flint are not worse than many other older cities in the country.
“But a high bar has been set in terms of a standard before people are told to drink the water without filters,” he said.