Ann Arbor, MI— Day four of a trial involving four children suing two engineering companies for alleged negligence related to the Flint water crisis continued March 3 with witness testimony from Jeffery Hansen, a former employee of Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, one of the engineering firms named in the suit.
The children—Andrea Teed, Daylanna Warre, Emir Sherrod, and Riley Vanderhagen—say they suffered injuries due to lead exposure. They are suing LAN, Veolia North America, and related companies hired by the city of Flint to advise officials on water issues as it switched its water provider from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River.
The original plan was to build a pipeline from Flint to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority to secure cheaper water. Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz told the state treasurer on April 16, 2013, that the city would be joining KWA. A day later, Detroit informed Kurtz that they would terminate water service to the city effective April 2014.
LAN and VNA were hired to help implement a temporary solution until Flint could connect to KWA.
Moshe Maimon, one of the lawyers representing the four plaintiff children, continued his cross-examination of Hansen from March 2. Hansen’s was the only testimony for the day.
Hansen is an engineer currently living in Michigan who had worked for LAN as a project manager in its Flint office when the city contracted with them in June 2013.
On March 2, Maimon questioned Hansen about several reports and studies involving LAN dating back to 2009. Maimon’s examination focused on the firm’s $34 million water treatment proposal with the city in 2013.
Maimon continued this line of questioning into the morning of March 3, reiterating that LAN had proposed three tasks in the contract:
1. A plant run to be scheduled later that summer to test the treatment systems and hydraulic capacity of the plant.
2. The development of an engineering planning report to determine the immediate and long-term improvements using the Flint River as a source of water.
3. An expedited design of the immediate improvements for continuous operation and treatment of the Flint River water.
LAN was initially contracted to perform the first two tasks but later entered into a “change order” with the city, which involved design work.
Maimon also reiterated that task one, a plant run to test water quality, had not been performed by the city because they encountered problems with equipment and different components of the plant. Therefore, no data on the water had been collected or analyzed by LAN.
Hansen testifies what he knew as the water crisis unfolded
On April 25, 2014, the city switched its water source to the Flint River.
Hansen Testified that he had visited the Flint Water Treatment Plant “several times” between July 2013 and May 2014 and there had been no further mention of a plant test run.
By May 2014, residents began complaining about their water’s color and taste. Maimon asked Hansen if he was aware of the complaints.
“I had seen some things periodically in the media, but … it’s hard for me to pinpoint exact dates back then,” Hansen said.
“Well, you knew that there were complaints about the color of the water, the taste of the water, the smell of the water. You were aware of those issues, right?” Maimon asked.
“I had read some articles in the media,” Hansen said.
In August 2014, E. coli and total coliform bacteria were detected in Flint’s water, which prompted authorities to issue several advisories for Flint residents to boil their water.
Maimon asked Hansen if he was aware of the boil water advisories.
“I remember reading that in the news,” Hansen said.
LAN contracted by city to remove disinfection byproducts from Flint water
In November 2014, Flint was found to be in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act due to high levels of total trihalomethanes in the water. TTHMs are disinfection byproducts that occur when chlorine interacts with organic matter in the water. Some can be cancerous to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hansen testified that he was aware of the TTHM violation, and a meeting was scheduled for Nov. 7, 2014, to discuss it. Representatives from LAN, the former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the city of Flint attended the meeting.
“No one from LAN suggested that the TTHM issues might reveal a larger problem related to water treatment, or water quality, or corrosion control, correct?” Maimon asked Hansen, who answered he was not aware of anyone from LAN who had said that.
LAN drafted a report for the city to address the TTHM concerns. The report stated that “non-structural options to help reduce TTHM levels are much preferred over solutions requiring new construction.”
Maimon asked Hansen if this was an effort to keep costs low, knowing that the city would have a different water supply in less than two years.
“And, so, to have all sorts of costs generated from construction, that really didn’t make a lot of sense if it could be avoided, right?” Maimon asked.
Hansen replied, “Yes.”
LAN suggested in their report that increasing the amount of ferric chloride is known to reduce TTHM levels. The suggestion was listed under a subsection in the report titled “immediate actions.”
In February 2015, LAN did several jar tests, meaning they performed tests in a lab to determine the amount of ferric chloride needed to mitigate TTHM levels. The city did as LAN suggested.
Maimon asked if LAN had done any testing to ensure the ferric chloride wouldn’t adversely affect the water treatment systems as it is known to make water more corrosive.
Hansen said the tests were only limited to the labs.
City of Flint keeps LAN ‘in the loop‘ about lead concerns
On Sept. 17, 2015, the city’s ex-Director of Public Works Howard Croft emailed Hansen and other LAN representatives regarding “lead and copper concerns.”
Maimon read Croft’s words aloud:
“I want to keep you all in the loop with the most recent information surrounding lead and copper concerns in the city. Please find a copy of a recent letter written from U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee to the head of the EPA and the MDEQ. I’ve also included the response from Dan Wyatt of MDEQ. I would like to continue moving forward as quick as possible with the final design for corrosion control, and to have as much information as possible on our next steps.”
Maimon also submitted to evidence an exchange between Hansen and his wife Kelly Green, who worked for the then-MDEQ. Hansen knew that Marc Edwards, who with a team of Virginia Tech researchers took lead samples from Flint homes, was in email correspondence with members of congress and the MDEQ.
Hansen forwarded Green the email from Croft saying he was “annoyed.”
Maimon read the email aloud:
“For your amusement, and you didn’t get this from me. What I find annoying is that they both CC’d that clown from Virginia Tech.”
Hansen asked if he could explain himself.
“From what I had heard from the city, they were well below the lead action limit and there was seemingly no problem. And they were the people I’d worked with and knew and trusted. The professor from Virginia Tech was someone from another state that I had no knowledge that he had any familiarity with the Flint system. So, it was difficult for me to reconcile why there were saying two very different things,” Hansen told the court.
The city of Flint hired LAN to design a phosphate feed system for corrosion control in late 2015.
Defense lawyers directly examine Hansen
Attorney Wayne Brian Mason, who is representing the city of Flint, a defendant in the case, then had the opportunity to examine Hansen.
He asked Hanson about the nature of his engineering expertise and Hansen confirmed that there are different subspecialities of engineering. He also said he was not an expert in water treatment but that during his time with LAN, he deferred to Warren Green, vice president and chief engineer, as the water treatment expert.
“Warren was the lead engineer and wastewater treatment designer at LAN. I was there to assist him however I could. My role was minimal, in the beginning in particular. Later, my role was next to nothing for late 2013 through late 2014,” Hansen said.
Between August 2013 and November 2014, Hansen said he had less than 50 hours logged on the project.
Daniel Stein, the lawyer representing VNA, also directly examined Hansen. He asked if VNA had attended any meetings prior to 2015 to which Hansen replied, “No.”
Stein also asked if anyone from the city of Flint or the MDEQ shared the lead testing results with Hansen. Hansen said he had only heard about the lead testing results through news articles.
The trial then concluded for the day. It will resume March 7 at 9 a.m. via Zoom. To watch the trials, go to the Court’s website at www.mied.uscourts.gov.