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UN rights experts urge US to address Michigan water contamination

[JURIST] A group of UN human rights experts on Thursday called on [press release] the US to increase its efforts to address the issue of lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. The UN experts acknowledged the gravity of the situation in Flint and throughout the world, stating that "[f]ar more is needed to protect human rights from toxic threats." The experts noted that exposure to contaminated drinking waters affects the rights of individuals to adequate housing, safe food and health while also stating that the issue of clean drinking water disproportionately affects minorities, poor and indigenous peoples. One study [website] reported that people of color are almost twice as likely as whites to live near dangerous chemical facilities. The UN experts, while commending President Barack Obama on his efforts to help those affected in Flint, urged the US to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child [text] and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights [text] as well as take significant legislative and administrative steps to redress these environmental human rights violations.

Public officials have come under fire [Atlantic report] for their response to the crisis, as it took 20 months after the initial switch in water supply for an emergency to be declared by the state. The National Guard was activated [CNN report] in January in order to distribute bottled water and water filters. Flint residents are currently being forced to rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing. In January the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, seeking the replacement of lead water pipes in the city of Flint. The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Flint resident Melissa Mays, seeks to force city and state officials to mediate alleged violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act [materials]. Also in January Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette appointed a former prosecutor [JURIST report] to act as Special Counsel in his investigation into the water contamination crisis in the city of Flint and a retired Detroit FBI chief will also participate in the investigation.

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