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Two lawsuits filed over Jackson water
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The City of Jackson has faced water woes for years, with many issues surfacing during the winter storm in February. Some access points for water maintenance were left untouched for months.
Kobee Vance, MPB News

Mississippi’s capital city is facing two lawsuits for claims of exposing children to high levels of lead in drinking water. Attorneys say the city’s water system could be comparable or worse than what Flint Michigan went through in 2014.

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The City of Jackson’s aging water system is being called into question through two new court cases that claim the city has knowingly allowed for high levels of lead contamination for more than half a decade. One lawsuit represents one child, while the other has hundreds of children as plaintiffs. The suits, filed Tuesday in federal court in Jackson, say the city of Jackson and the state Health Department have made “conscience-shocking decisions and have shown deliberate indifference that have led to Plaintiffs’ exposure to toxic lead in Jackson’s drinking water.”

Corey Stern is a New York based attorney who represented people who sued over the Flint Michigan water crisis. He says in Flint, the water crisis was addressed within three years. But in Jackson, Stern says the city’s water infrastructure has remained unchanged and can be dangerous to the health of children.

“To this day, the water in Jackson is just as bad if not worse as it was on day one,” says Stern. “There’s been no fix. People should not be drinking the water in Jackson Mississippi. They shouldn’t be cooking with the water, they shouldn’t be bathing with the water. And their officials are kinda silent on it.”

Jackson has around 160,000 residents, and officials with the city declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Since July 1, Jackson has been under a safe drinking water consent order with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sets a schedule for work on water treatment facilities and delivery systems.

The EPA examined Jackson’s water treatment plants in February 2020 at the request of the state Health Department. The agency found conditions presented “an imminent and substantial endangerment to the persons served by the system.”

The EPA sent the city an emergency order over the water system in March 2020, along with notices of noncompliance in May 2020 and April of this year. The consent order requires Jackson to determine the number of lead service distribution lines in its system and to develop a plan for gradually replacing them.

When a severe cold snap hit large parts of the South early this year, parts of Jackson’s water system froze. That left thousands of customers without running water for weeks, forcing some businesses to close. Once service was restored, some customers still had to boil water for a month.