Flint residents seek bottled water delivery as lead exposure persists

September 14, 2016 12:07 PM EDT

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By Serena Maria Daniels

DETROIT (Reuters) - Residents of Flint, Michigan, on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order bottled water or filters be provided to them to prevent further lead exposure, 2-1/2 years after the city's water supply was found to be contaminated.

Attorneys for residents and for advocacy groups Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan argued in U.S. District Court in Detroit that the city and state should be required to deliver bottled water to people's homes or launch a program to install water filters.

"After more than two years, Flint residents still cannot turn on their taps without worrying about lead exposure," Dimple Chaudhary, attorney for the NRDC, told Judge David Lawson in a hearing for a preliminary injunction the group is seeking to force the bottled water delivery. The hearing is scheduled to last two days.

The crisis drew international attention, resulted in the filing of numerous lawsuits and led to calls by some critics for the resignation of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder due to the state's poor handling of the situation.

Flint, a predominantly black city of 100,000, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its water source in April 2014 to the Flint River from Lake Huron. The more corrosive river water caused lead to leach from city pipes and into the drinking water.

The city switched back last October after tests found high levels of lead in blood samples taken from children, but the drinking water has not returned fully to normal. Flint has been replacing lead pipes running to homes and state officials have said the water is safe to drink if properly filtered.

The plaintiffs' attorneys argued transportation and other access issues have made it hard for many residents to acquire the water from government-run water distribution sites and Flint's water remains unsafe.

The residents and advocacy groups sued the city and state in January, alleging violations of the federal Safe Water Drinking Act and seeking court intervention. The act requires water providers to meet federal safety standards and allows private lawsuits to seek injunctive relief enforcing it.

Mike Murphy, attorney for the state, said the problems are being addressed, including replacing corroded lead water pipes. Officials previously said in court documents they are working on a planned water delivery program.

Flint's interim chief financial officer, David Sabuda, said in court that delivering water would financially cripple the city.

Also on Wednesday, former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employee Corinne Miller entered into an agreement with state prosecutors, pleading no contest to the misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty by a public officer, avoiding jail time and agreeing to cooperate with investigators.

(Reporting by Serena Maria Daniels; Additional reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by James Dalgleish and Alden Bentley)

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