By Ben Klayman
DETROIT (Reuters) - A group of academics and activists on Wednesday called on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to establish a compensation fund for victims of Flint's lead-contaminated drinking water, with one member of the group proposing the state set aside at least $1 billion.
The group of 200 professors and advocates, which calls itself the Experts of Color Network, said in a letter to Snyder the fund would pay for claims, health screenings and treatment for those in Flint affected by the crisis.
The group, which is focused on building wealth for minority communities, did not say how big a fund was needed for Flint's roughly 100,000 residents, most of whom are African American or Latino.
One co-signer, Rudy Arredondo, president of the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association, told Reuters it should be "at a minimum $1 billion."
Snyder's press secretary, Dave Murray, did not directly address the fund proposal when asked for comment. He said the governor was looking at a variety of ways to address health concerns in Flint.
"Health care – both immediate and long-term – is an important part of the plans," he said.
The call for the compensation fund came the same day U.S. lawmakers criticized environmental officials at a Washington hearing for not acting sooner about the contaminated water.
Flint, a city near 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. 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 nervous system.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Andrew Hay)