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There Are Objections To The Proposed Flint Water Crisis Settlement

NOEL KING, HOST:

A federal judge in Michigan will decide whether to approve a large settlement of civil lawsuits related to the Flint water crisis. Some residents of Flint say the deal is just inadequate. Here's Steve Carmody from Michigan Radio.

STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: It's been more than seven years since Flint, Mich.'s drinking water became contaminated with lead after the city's tap water source was switched to save money. The contamination changed tens of thousands of lives. Jesse Carpenter was a Flint police officer for 18 years until he started experiencing significant weight loss. He was eventually hospitalized. And his wife, Kimberly, says doctors tied his illness to Flint's tainted tap water.

KIMBERLY CARPENTER: So he ended up losing his career as a police officer because of, you know, some of the permanent damage that was done to him from the poisoning.

CARMODY: The Carpenters are among more than 50,000 people who've registered to be part of a $641 million settlement of civil claims. Most of the money is coming from the state of Michigan, which oversaw the water switch. While a federal judge gave the settlement preliminary approval in January, in the months since, opposition to the deal has grown. At a rally last week, Reverend Alfred Harris told the crowd the settlement just isn't big enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

ALFRED HARRIS: And if the settlement had been not $641 million - if it had been $2 billion, it wouldn't have been enough. The settlement should have been thought out that the people that were victimized would be taken care of - watch this - the rest of their lives.

(CROWD CHEERING)

CARMODY: The money from the settlement would go directly to those affected by the lead-tainted water. Michigan and the federal government have already provided expanded Medicaid, nutrition and other health programs to Flint residents. Nearly 80% of this settlement is earmarked for plaintiffs who were younger than 18 years old when Flint's drinking water was contaminated. Children under 6 exposed to high levels of lead would be the biggest beneficiaries.

But one method chosen to determine the extent of lead exposure, a bone lead scan, has proven controversial. That's in part because some of the largest shares of the settlement would go to people who have undergone the scan, but only a limited number of plaintiffs have had the test. Only one law firm obtained portable scanners and started testing thousands of its clients. Attorney Mark Cuker says the scanner was made available to other plaintiffs earlier this year, but only for a short time.

MARK CUKER: It's not equitable if certain claimants are going to get a lot more money simply because their lawyers had secretly monopolized the technology to get bone scans while shutting out others.

CARMODY: Other attorneys questioned whether the portable device itself is safe for measuring bone lead levels. The settlement's lead attorneys defend the use of the scanners, insisting they are safe and effective. Others opposing the settlement complain about the lawyers' nearly one-third cut of the settlement, which would top $200 million. Corey Stern is the co-liaison counsel and represents about 5,000 Flint residents, most of whom were children during the water crisis. He defends the attorney's fees.

COREY STERN: If every one of these individuals who's participating in the settlement had their lawyer settle their case on a case-by-case-by-case-by-case basis, they would be paying - if not the exact same amount that they're paying now, they'd be paying more than they're paying now.

CARMODY: Even if the judge approves the settlement, it won't mean the end of all the lawsuits. The first lawsuits against other defendants, including the Environmental Protection Agency, are expected to go to trial this fall. Meanwhile, Flint residents wait. For NPR News, I'm Steve Carmody in Flint.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WATER'S "VIKINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.