Pennsylvania Parents Sue School over Lead in the Drinking Water

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Contaminated Drinking Water

The Butler Area School District of Pennsylvania and its former superintendent are facing a class action lawsuit alleging that the school failed to adequately warn about lead in the drinking water. Parents of children who attend Summit Elementary School allege that officials received test results showing unacceptably high levels of lead and copper in the drinking water but failed to properly address the issue in a reasonable timeframe.

The environmental attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have decades of experience representing clients in lawsuits over alleged environmental hazards, including lead poisoning and contaminated drinking water. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to individuals with questions about filing a water contamination lawsuit.

According to court records, the lawsuit was filed in February in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Students and staff were told not to drink water from the well on the property because it was contaminated with lead in January, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Bottled water was distributed instead. Additional testing showed that the water was also contaminated with E. coli, which can cause bacterial infections.

Plaintiffs suing over the water contamination allege that the school district failed to warn of lead contamination in a timely manner. According to Post-Gazette, the school received the test results in August 2016. The findings, released by the State Department of Environmental Protection, showed that lead levels were as high as 55 parts per billion. Regulations dictate that lead levels should not be higher than 15 parts per billion. The DEP said the school district must take action immediately.

But parents allege they weren’t notified of the tainted water for months, until the January communication. When the school district did announce the results, officials acknowledged that “the district’s response to the DEP report had been “untimely and inadequate,” The superintendent also said the school received the test results in September. The superintendent has since resigned.

Lead Poisoning and Drinking Water Contamination

Parker Waichman notes that lead contamination is still a concern in the United States, even though Congress banned lead pipes three decades ago. Although new pipes are not made of lead, many older pipes remain in the water system. Exposure to lead in the drinking water can cause mental and physical problems. The effects are particularly strong in children who can suffer from developmental issues. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe level of lead exposure in children. Miniscule amounts can cause harmful defects. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

In older buildings, lead may be present in the form of paint and dust. The EPA website states that lead can enter the drinking water when lead pipes corrode, such as when the water is highly acidic or has low mineral content. “The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water,” the agency states.

Young children who drink lead-tainted water can suffer damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, including learning disabilities, shorter stature, hearing problems and abnormal formation and function of blood cells. In adults, lead exposure can cause cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, kidney problems and reproductive problems.

Flint Michigan Water Crisis

The issue of lead tainted drinking water made headlines when the city of Flint, Michigan experienced its drinking water crisis. In 2014, Flint changed its water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. When changing water sources, however, officials made a severe error; they did not properly treat the water supply by failing to use corrosion inhibitors. As such, lead entered the drinking water. It is estimated that 6,000 to 12,000 children were exposed to high levels of lead. Flint declared a state of emergency in December 2015.

The issue of contaminated drinking water continues in Flint. In 2016, the Detroit News reported that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver renewed the city’s emergency declaration. “The fact of the matter is we still cannot drink our water without a filter,” Weaver said in a statement. “That is why I have signed a declaration to renew the state of emergency in the City of Flint until the lingering issues have been resolved and the water is deemed safe to drink.”

Other cities have also experienced issues with the drinking water. According to a New York Times article published in February 2016, testing in 2015 showed that the drinking water in the town of Sebring, Ohio contained high levels of lead. The lead contamination occurred after workers stopped treating the water with an anti-corroding agent. NYT reports that five months passed before the city warned pregnant women and children against drinking the water.

Contaminated drinking water has also been a problem in Washington, D.C., which changed how it disinfected its drinking water in 2001. According to NYT, lead levels jumped up to 20 times the federally approved level following the change. Residents did not learn of the issue for three years. Once the problem became known, federal officials tore out lead pipes leading to 17,600 homes. But three years later, they learned that these actions only prolonged the presence of the lead in the water.

“We have a lot of threats to the water supply,” said Dr. Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a professor of public health at Tufts University and a former chairman of the E.P.A.’s Drinking Water Committee, according to the NYT article. “And we have lots of really good professionals in the water industry who see themselves as protecting the public good. But it doesn’t take much for our aging infrastructure or an unprofessional actor to allow that protection to fall apart.”

Filing a Drinking Water Contamination Lawsuit

Parker Waichman has spent years representing clients in lawsuits over environmental health risks. If you or someone you know is interested in filing a drinking water contamination lawsuit, speak with one of our environmental attorneys today. For more information, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).

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