Residents were left ill and relying on bottled water. Health officials said the effects on children were most concerning.
The money would largely be designated for children in Flint who were poisoned by lead-tainted tap water after officials changed the city’s water supply six years ago, setting off a crisis that drew national attention and remains a worry for many residents.
Details of the settlement were not released and lawyers and public officials involved in the case declined to comment on Wednesday night. But tens of thousands of Flint residents were expected to be eligible to receive money under the settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal judge in Michigan.
The individual amounts received from the settlement would depend on Flint residents’ degree of suffering and damage from drinking the water.
The settlement is the culmination of more than 18 months of negotiations, meant to answer a difficult question for the residents of a city battered by catastrophe: What are the victims of the Flint water crisis owed?
In 2014, as a cost-saving measure for a city in deep financial distress, officials in Flint, led by a state-appointed emergency manager, switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the notoriously foul Flint River. Officials failed to add corrosion controls to the tap water, investigations later found, allowing lead and other chemicals to leach from the old, worn pipes into the drinking supply.
It did not take long before Flint residents knew there was something terribly wrong with their water. It tasted metallic and often appeared to be green or light brown. Many people began feeling ill and experiencing skin rashes, hair loss and other mysterious symptoms.
But when they confronted elected officials and demonstrated outside City Hall, their pleas were dismissed.
Months later, testing showed increased and alarming levels of lead in the blood of some Flint children. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a local pediatrician, and other scientists and researchers raised warnings that were initially disregarded by state and local officials. In fall 2015, in the face of overwhelming evidence, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan acknowledged that the water was not fine.
In the years since, the city and the state have taken steps to help Flint residents recover.
The water source in Flint was switched back to Lake Huron water, which is treated in Detroit. But in Flint, it is still common to use bottled water for cooking, drinking and even bathing, since suspicion of government officials runs high.
Some of the work to repair pipes in Flint remains unfinished. Last week, Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced that the multiyear project to replace lead service lines was in its final phase, with fewer than 2,500 Flint homes awaiting line replacement. The project, financed in an $87 million settlement with the state of Michigan, was originally promised to be completed by January 2020. It was paused again this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic and restarted in June.
Last year, Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that her office was dropping pending criminal cases against government officials who were implicated in the scandal, but she pledged to continue investigating. Her office has not filed additional charges since.
Thousands of Flint residents have filed lawsuits against the state.
Two court-appointed mediators helped the parties reach an agreement: former Senator Carl Levin of Michigan and Judge Pamela Harwood, who is retired from the Wayne County Circuit Court.
Anyone who was living in Flint between 2014 and 2016 could be eligible for a claim. The payments are expected to be distributed beginning in spring 2021.
Kathleen Gray contributed reporting.