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Sterling Employment Law

Flint water contamination trial and whistleblower testimony

The trial is underway in Flint, Mich., regarding citywide lead water contamination. Three suspended employees and one fired employee from the Department of Environmental Quality are charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in the office.

The charges are the result of accusations dollowing a switchover of water systems in April 2014. The claim is that the three suspended water regulators and the head of the division responsible for the switchover failed to properly treat the water. The untreated water system, which was switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River, continued to have rising levels of lead and other contaminants coming in from the Flint River until sometime in 2015.

Testimony from one resident, known as a whistleblower, told the courts how she and her four children had suffered from the lead in the water. She claimed they experienced ailments such as rashes and bumps and that one daughter's hair was coming out in clumps.

This woman was wise enough to test her water for lead, claiming that the levels arose from 104 parts per billion to 397 parts in the first few months of 2015. The threshold levels for safe drinking water per federal regulations is only 15 parts per billion. By August, the levels in her water had risen to 717 parts per billion.

In April 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a lead technical expert out to test the lead levels. The official provided the woman with an interim report in June, which ended up in the hands of a journalist, bringing national attention to the situation.

Flint officials had promised the woman that they would replace her water lines, also made of lead. In the end, she ended up having to hook up to a garden hose belonging to a neighbor for five weeks.

Whistleblowers are not always employees in a workplace. This woman was a concerned citizen. However, the EPA official (in related articles) was also dubbed a whistleblower by higher ranking officials at his agency. He stood his ground with intregrity in a desire to do the right thing. As a result, he suffered workplace retaliation for providing the woman with proof of the lead in the water system..

Michigan has laws to protect whistleblowers and give them confidence to stand up for what is right. Employees who are retaliated or discriminated against in any way for righteous actions should seek legal counsel to protect their rights.

Source: The Detroit News, "Flint whistle-blower mom testifies in DEQ staffer case," Leonard N. Fleming, Jan. 10, 2018

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