Yemen sterilizes Sanaa water supplies as cholera outbreak picks up again

Girls wait next to a charity tap where people collect drinking water amid fears of a new cholera outbreak in Sanaa, Yemen November 5, 2018. Picture taken November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

SANAA (Reuters) – Authorities in the Houthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa are sterilizing water supplies at wells, distribution networks and houses to help stem the world’s worst outbreak of cholera.

Nearly four years of war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iranian-aligned Houthi group have crippled healthcare and sanitation systems in Yemen, where some 1.2 million suspected cholera cases have been reported since 2017, with 2,515 deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in October that the outbreak is accelerating again with roughly 10,000 suspected cases now reported per week, double the average rate for the first eight months of 2018.

Most cases have been reported in areas held by the Houthi movement, which controls most population centers after ousting the internationally recognized government from Sanaa in 2014.

“We receive information of reported cases of cholera from the Ministry of Health, then the team sterilizes the house and 20 houses around it,” Nabeel Abdullah al-Wazeer, the Houthis’ minister of water, told Reuters in Sanaa.

“We worked from house to house and on sterilizing water wells. We also worked on bus-mounted tanks, which transport water in the private sector to the citizens, as well as sterilizing local institutions which distribute water.”

Adel Moawada, director general of technical affairs at Sanaa’s main water sanitation plant, said there are currently 20 automated chlorination units installed in wells directly linked to the capital’s water distribution network.

Cholera, which is spread by consuming contaminated food or water, is a diarrheal disease and can kill within hours. While previous outbreaks may have helped build immunity in the population, other diseases and widespread malnutrition can weaken resilience.

The United Nations says about 14 million people, or half of Yemen’s population, could soon face famine. Some 1.8 million children are malnourished, according to UNICEF.

Children account for 30 percent of cholera infections.

Pediatrician Mohammed Abdulmughni administers intravenous fluids to children in WHO tents in Sanaa. Their beds rest on gravel and flies circle their faces.

“With winter’s arrival we expected the numbers would decrease, yet the cases have been coming in at the same pace,” he said. “We expected positive (diagnoses) cases to decrease but the cases remain high.”

If caught early, acute diarrhea can be treated with oral hydration salts, but more severe cases require intravenous fluids and antibiotics.

More than 250,000 cases of cholera have been recorded in Yemen since the beginning of 2018, with 358 associated deaths, UNICEF representative Meritxell Relano told Reuters.

“We have prevented an outbreak at the scale of 2017,” Relano said. “But the risk is still there.”

(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen, additional reporting by Julie Carriat in Paris; Writing by Tuqa Khalid; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Lawsuit over Flint water crisis says 17 children have high lead levels

(Reuters) – A group of Flint, Michigan, parents and their children filed a class action on Monday alleging that gross negligence by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and others caused the city’s drinking water to become contaminated with lead.

The lawsuit was filed in Detroit federal court and seeks damages for a proposed class of “tens of thousands” of Flint residents and property owners who have suffered physical or economic injuries. The named plaintiffs are seven residents and their 17 children who lawyers say have heightened lead levels.

The state’s slow response to the water crisis drew sharp rebukes from Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on Sunday. Both called for Snyder’s resignation. A spokesman has said the Republican governor has no intention of stepping down.

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 began replacing lead pipes running to homes on Friday.

Attorneys Hunter Shkolnik and Adam Slater allege in Monday’s lawsuit the governmental defendants failed to take measures required by federal law to eliminate the dangers and downplayed the severity of the contamination to residents.

Children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure, as even small amounts can stunt development, leading to lifelong academic and behavioral problems.

Current and former officials and workers in Michigan and Flint are named as defendants, along with engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, which was hired to assess the feasibility of using Flint River water.

A firm representative said the lawsuit mischaracterized its role and it would vigorously defend its position in court.

The lawsuit accuses the governmental defendants of gross negligence, which is an exception to the immunity that shields federal and state governments and employees from lawsuits over their official duties. The strength of the immunity defense has kept many leading plaintiffs’ lawyers away from filing lawsuits over the Flint crisis.

The families seek payment for past and future health costs and monitoring as well as compensation for lost property value, replacement of pipes and reclamation of contaminated property.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Anthony Lin and Matthew Lewis)

Michigan governor issues appeal over Flint funds denial

(Reuters) – Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has urged federal officials to reconsider their denial for funds to help deal with the crisis caused by lead-contaminated water in the city of Flint, his office said on Thursday.

The contamination and the state’s long delay in addressing the problem have sparked outrage and drawn attention from U.S. presidential candidates.

In the latest appeal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Snyder is requesting money to pay for food, water and other essential needs; the removal of health and safety hazards; activation of emergency operations centers; measures to avoid further damage; and homeowners’ repairs not covered by insurance.

A FEMA spokesman said Snyder’s appeal was under review by the agency.

The agency turned down an earlier request for financial help in January because the areas in which Snyder requested aid were deemed not appropriate, but has provided non-monetary support in the form of a FEMA coordinator.

Also in January, Snyder asked for federal declarations of emergency and major disaster. President Barack Obama approved the federal emergency declaration, but denied a major disaster declaration. Snyder appealed that decision and was denied.

Snyder said on Thursday that Flint needed continued local, state, federal and national efforts. “Assistance from our federal partners could go a long way in moving Flint forward,” he said.

Activists and some Democratic state lawmakers have demanded that Snyder resign, but a spokesman said the Republican governor had no intention of stepping down.

Snyder is scheduled to testify before a U.S. congressional committee on March 17.

Also on Thursday, Snyder said the federal government approved a waiver allowing for Medicaid coverage for children and pregnant women in Flint.

Flint, a predominantly black city of 100,000 about 60 miles northwest of Detroit, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched the source of its tap water from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in April 2014.

The city switched back last October after tests found high levels of lead in blood samples taken from children.

Water from the Flint River, which was more corrosive than Detroit’s, leached lead from the city’s pipes, posing widespread health risks.

Experts have said it could take some time for anti-corrosive chemicals now being added to the water to re-coat pipes so that they will not leach more lead.

Meanwhile, Flint officials said they would begin replacing lead pipes running to homes with copper on Friday as part of a $55 million project.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Ben Klayman, Tom Brown, Alan Crosby and Marguerita Choy)

U.S. lawmakers chastise officials at all levels over Flint water crisis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers criticized environmental officials at a hearing on Wednesday for not acting sooner when they saw a report that drinking water in Flint, Michigan was polluted with dangerously high levels of lead.

“I never thought this could happen in America,” and in a state, “surrounded by fresh water of the Great Lakes,” Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat of Michigan, said at a House Oversight panel examining the water crisis in Flint, a city of 100,000.

The panel issued subpoenas to officials who did not show up to testify about water found to have lead levels that hamper brain development and cause other health problems. Thousands of children are believed to have ingested the polluted water in Flint, a mostly African American and Latino suburb near Detroit.

Lawrence asked Keith Creagh, head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, why his agency did not act on a report by a federal Environmental Protection Agency expert that showed the water was polluted. She did not get a clear answer.

“We all share responsibility in the Flint water crisis, whether it is the city the state or the federal government, we all let the citizens of Flint down,” said Creagh, who took the job last month.

Marc Edwards, a water engineer who first raised the issue of Flint’s lead contamination, told the panel the EPA broke laws by not notifying the public about a report of tainted water. “If it’s not criminal, I don’t know what is.”

EPA water official Joel Beauvais said he did not know why his agency did not tell the public.

Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, complained that the Republican-led panel did not invite Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, to testify at the hearing.

Representative Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania criticized Snyder and his hand-picked emergency managers for Flint who were responsible for switching the source of Flint’s tap water from Detroit’s system to the Flint River, a dumping area, in April 2014.

Flint is grappling with the health and political fallout over the switch after the more corrosive river water leached lead from old pipes into the system.

“He got caught red handed poisoning the children of Flint,” Cartwright, a Democrat, said of Snyder. “There’s no two ways about it. That’s the headline here.”

A Snyder spokesman responded in an email: “It’s unfortunate when people who are not working toward a solution inject partisan politics and incendiary rhetoric into an emergency that can best be addressed by people working together.”

Snyder will ask state lawmakers in his next budget proposal to approve a $30 million water payment relief plan for Flint residents to keep their water service on and reimburse them for lead-contaminated water they cannot drink, his office said.

A busload of Flint residents traveled to Washington to attend the hearing. “We’re serious about making sure that the people responsible for this manmade disaster are held accountable,” said Bernadel Jefferson, a bishop.

Lawmakers also slammed the EPA for not sending Administrator Gina McCarthy to Flint until this week, even though the agency has known about the crisis for months. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency had formed a Flint task force last October, and has had a team there for weeks.

The head of the oversight panel, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a Republican, said he subpoenaed EPA’s Susan Hedman to appear at a deposition in Washington later this month.

Hedman, who announced last month that she would resign on Feb. 1, had played down the memo by the EPA’s Miguel del Toral that said tests had shown high levels of lead, telling Flint and Michigan administrators it was only a draft report.

The EPA has agreed to provide all of Hedman’s emails by the end of the week, Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz said his panel had also issued a second subpoena to Darnell Earley, who was Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager when the city switched from Detroit’s system.

A. Scott Bolden, Earley’s lawyer, said his client has not been given enough time to respond to the initial subpoena, which was served last night. Bolden said Earley is “not hiding anywhere” and will honor a subpoena issued with a reasonable response time.

Earley only implemented the plan to change the city’s water source that others had put in place before he started, Bolden said. “There was nothing put before him by the environmental folks, the water testers or anyone connected to ensuring the quality of the water to suggest in any way that a water disaster was looming.”

Political fallout over the crisis could also hold up a wide-ranging bill on energy. Democrats in the Senate threatened to block a bipartisan energy bill if it fails to include immediate aid for Flint.

Federal authorities including the FBI have started a criminal probe into the contamination.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Richard Cowan in Washington)

FBI joins criminal probe into Flint water contamination

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday it is joining a criminal investigation into lead contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan, exploring whether any laws were broken in a crisis that has captured international attention.

Federal prosecutors in Michigan were working with an investigative team that included the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General, and the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit said.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency was determining whether federal laws were broken, but declined further comment.

Also on Tuesday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was meeting with officials and community leaders in Flint.

The city, about 60 miles northwest of Detroit, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched the source of its tap water from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in April 2014.

Flint switched back last October after tests found high levels of lead in blood samples taken from children. The more corrosive water from the river leached more lead from the city pipes than Detroit water did. Lead is a toxic agent that can damage the tissues of the nervous system.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who extended a state of emergency in Flint until April 14, has repeatedly apologized for the state’s poor handling of the matter.

“It’s important to look at missteps at all three levels of government – local, state and federal – so such a crisis doesn’t occur again,” said Dave Murray, a spokesman for Snyder.

Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former federal prosecutor, said on Tuesday there was limited ability to seek criminal charges under U.S. environmental laws. Prosecutors would need to find something egregious like a knowingly false statement.

“You need a lie,” he said. “You need something that is false to build a case.”

Simply failing to recognize the seriousness of the situation would not rise to that level, Henning added.

In Washington, Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, Democrats from Michigan, pushed for $600 million in aid – mostly in federal funds – to help Flint replace pipes and provide healthcare.

Meanwhile, Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who chairs an environmental committee, said an agreement to help Flint was close and would be a combination of revolving funds and other aid he did not detail. Money from a revolving fund is like a loan, with the money going to the recipient and then being repaid so there is no net cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said any aid to Flint must not add to U.S. budget deficits for “what is a local and state problem.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver on Tuesday called for the removal of lead pipes in the city, starting with the highest-risk homes.

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the Flint crisis on Wednesday and has invited the EPA’s acting deputy assistant administrator in its Office of Water to testify, as well as Keith Creagh, the new director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The committee also invited Darnell Earley, the former Flint emergency manager, but he declined to testify. Earley, currently the Detroit Public Schools emergency manager, will step down from that position on Feb. 29.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, David Bailey in Minneapolis and Tim Gardner and Richard Cowan in Washington; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Grant McCool and G Crosse)

Schools in Ohio town closed for third day over lead contamination

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Schools in the Ohio village of Sebring were closed for a third day on Tuesday after elevated levels of lead were found in pipes serving some homes and buildings, making it the second Midwestern region to be plagued by tainted water.

Three schools in Sebring, 60 miles northeast of Cleveland, have been shut down since Friday. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency hit the village with a violation notice last week requiring it to notify residents of the lead problem, after first warning about risks to pregnant women and children on Dec. 3.

The Sebring news follows weeks of controversy over high lead levels in the water of Flint, Michigan, which has led to calls for the resignation of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

An EPA report on Tuesday found that two samples from Sebring’s McKinley Junior/Senior High School had lead levels above federal standards.

“It has become apparent that our field office was too patient in dealing with the village of Sebring’s ‘cat and mouse’ game,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said in a statement on Sunday.

No lead was found at the district’s middle school and athletic building, and lead found in water samples at the elementary school was below the federal allowable level.

Tests of the water plant confirm the village of Sebring’s water treatment plant has no detectable lead. However, water chemistry caused corrosion in piping leading to 28 homes and one school building, the EPA found.

The EPA said that it has reason to believe that Sebring’s water treatment plant operator falsified reports. The agency is requesting assistance from U.S. EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.

The Ohio EPA has required continual water testing, bottled water distribution and filtration systems provided to homes where results are above the federal allowable level. The advisory will remain in place for a minimum of a year.

Village officials for Sebring were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can damage brains and cause other health problems.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Matthew Lewis)

Special prosecutor appointed to investigate Flint water crisis

(Reuters) – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on Monday named a special prosecutor and investigator to look into possible crimes in the city of Flint’s water crisis.

Todd Flood, a former prosecutor for Detroit’s Wayne County, and retired Detroit FBI head Andrew Arena will conduct the independent investigation into the lead contamination in Flint after water supplies were switched to save money, Schuette said.

Governor Rick Snyder apologized last week for the delay in addressing Flint’s problems, which have become a national scandal. Residents of the city of 100,000 people had complained for months about discolored water, but officials moved slowly to address the problem.

“Without fear and without favor, this independent investigation will be high-performance and let the chips fall where they may,” Schuette told reporters at a news conference.

State Representative LaTanya Garrett, a Democrat from Detroit, filed a petition with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to remove Schuette and his team from the investigation, citing conflicts of interest. Schuette and Snyder are Republicans.

Schuette pledged the investigation would be independent and said an ethics lawyer would watch out for conflicts.

He gave no timeline for the probe, saying it could take a long time to get all the facts necessary.

Schuette said it was an outrage that people in Flint are billed for water they cannot drink and that he was looking for ways to get people relief from payments.

He said he decided earlier this year that the probe was needed, after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality admitted errors in Flint water treatment.

Dan Wyant, the head of Michigan’s DEQ, resigned in December. Last week Susan Hedman, the regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also stepped down due to the Flint water problem.

In recent years, financially troubled Flint has been governed by a series of state-appointed emergency managers. A booming car industry town in the first half of the 20th century, the city has been in decline ever since.

In 2014, Flint began using river water, which was more corrosive than its previous supply and caused more lead to leach from its aging pipes.

This in turn led to elevated levels of lead, a neurotoxin that can damage the brain and cause other health problems, in some drinking water and in some children.

A number of lawsuits have been filed against city and state officials.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Political fallout from Flint water crisis spreads

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama is determined to find out what went wrong in the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, officials said on Wednesday, and environmental regulators were set to provide Congress with information about their role.

Blame is swirling after a switch in the water supply to the city north of Detroit led to elevated levels of lead in drinking water.

“The president is absolutely determined to figure out what went wrong, generally speaking,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One. Schultz noted that the matter was under investigation.

Facing protests, lawsuits and calls for his resignation, Michigan Governor Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, apologized to the city’s residents on Tuesday and called for the state to spend $28 million on fixes.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while saying it was reviewing its handling of the crisis and could have acted faster to inform the state of what measures it should take, also blamed the state on Tuesday. It said the agency’s oversight was hampered by “failures and resistance at the state and local levels.”

Flint, financially strapped and under a state-appointed emergency manager, switched to Flint River water in April 2014 from a Detroit-run water system to save money.

Complaints about the water began within a month of the switch. But Flint did not return to Detroit water until October 2015 after tests showed elevated levels of lead, which can cause brain damage and other health problems, in Flint tap water and in some children. Corrosive water from the river, known locally as a dumping ground, caused more lead to leach from Flint pipes than Detroit water did.

“This is something nobody should have to deal with. Everybody should have clean water … Resources are being sent to Flint as we speak,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver told a conference in Washington on Wednesday.

She was interrupted by a protester shouting “I need some water.”

In his state of the state speech on Tuesday, Snyder said federal, state and local leaders had failed residents.

He asked Michigan lawmakers to authorize $28 million in spending on diagnostic tests, health treatment for children and adolescents, replacement of old fixtures in Flint schools and day care centers and a study of the city’s water pipes.

Snyder, who has faced questions on how soon he acted after learning about the water problem in Flint, promised to release his Flint-related emails from 2014 and 2015 on Wednesday.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers including Michigan Republican Fred Upton, of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote last week to Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy, requesting a briefing about the Flint contamination. That briefing to congressional staffers was scheduled for Thursday.

The House committee letter mentioned reports that said people in Flint have been exposed to dangerous biological pathogens and chemicals in the drinking water. Although Flint has now switched back to Detroit’s water system, lead levels in the city’s water are still elevated.

Several lawsuits have been filed in the case. The latest on Tuesday asked a judge to stop Flint from issuing shutoff notices to residents, who are still receiving bills for water declared undrinkable.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Lacey Johnson, Ian Simpson; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Frances Kerry)

Michigan governor asks Obama for federal aid in Flint water crisis

DETROIT (Reuters) – Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has asked President Barack Obama to declare both an emergency and an expedited major disaster in the county where the city of Flint has been dealing with the fallout from lead-contaminated drinking water.

Snyder said in a statement released shortly before midnight on Thursday that he requested federal aid in Genesee County to protect the safety of Flint residents. Earlier this week, he sent the Michigan National Guard to distribute bottled water and other supplies.

The financially strapped city was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its source of tap water from Detroit’s system to the nearby Flint River in April 2014 to save money.

Flint, which is about 60 miles northwest of Detroit, returned to using that city’s water in October after tests found elevated levels of lead in the water and in the blood of some children.

The more corrosive water from the Flint River leached lead from the city pipes more than Detroit water did, leading to the problems.

“We are utilizing all state resources to ensure Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water,” Snyder said, “and today I am asking President Obama to provide additional resources.”

On Friday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he would investigate whether any laws were violated in the crisis. “No one should have to fear something as basic as turning on the kitchen faucet.”

The assistance Snyder has requested could include grants for temporary housing, home repairs and other needs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will review the request and advise Obama.

The White House said on Friday it would consider Snyder’s request, which was being reviewed by FEMA. A FEMA spokesman said the agency will give its recommendation to the president as soon as possible.

Some Flint residents sued Snyder, other officials, Michigan and the city on Jan. 7 in Genesee County court and are seeking class action status covering all residents.

Other Flint residents late last year filed a federal lawsuit. Genesee County also has seen a spike of Legionnaires’ disease resulting in 10 deaths that may or may not be related to the water crisis, state officials previously said.

Also on Friday, Snyder said he supports the return of more executive powers to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver. Since the city is in receivership, a city administrator is currently responsible for day-to-day operations.

(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards and Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bill Trott and Meredith Mazzilli)

Legionnaires’ spike in Michigan county dealing with water crisis

(Reuters) – The Michigan county already reeling from lead-contaminated drinking water in the city of Flint has seen a spike of Legionnaires’ disease resulting in 10 deaths that may or may not be related to the water crisis, officials said on Wednesday.

Genesee County, which includes Flint, had 87 cases of Legionnaires’ from June 2014 to November 2015. State officials told a news conference they could not conclude that the increase was due to a switch in the source of Flint’s water.

“That just adds to the disaster we already are facing with respect to elevated lead levels,” Governor Rick Snyder said.

About half the cases were connected to Flint water and half were not, according to Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Legionnaires is a type of pneumonia caused by inhaling mist infected with the bacteria Legionella. The mist may come from air-conditioning units for large buildings, hot tubs or showers.

Genesee County and Michigan health departments are investigating the increase as are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Snyder said.

Snyder called in Michigan National Guard troops, who arrived on Wednesday to help distribute bottled water, water filters, testing kits and other supplies to Flint residents.

The governor, who has been accused of waiting too long to intervene in the crisis, also requested support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has appointed a disaster recovery coordinator to help Michigan.

Financially strapped Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its source of tap water to the nearby Flint River in April 2014 from Detroit’s water system 60 miles to the southeast to save money.

Flint returned to the Detroit water system in October after tests found some children had elevated levels of lead in their blood and lead was found in higher-than-acceptable levels in the water. The city said in December lead levels remained well above acceptable levels.

Snyder has apologized for the state’s mishandling of the situation and declared a state of emergency in Genesee County to bring in additional state resources.

Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit said it was investigating the lead contamination of Flint’s water. Flint residents have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city and state of endangering their health.