Pennsylvania School District Accused of Hiding Dangerous Lead Level in School Water

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Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

 In a class action lawsuit, parents in Butler, Pennsylvania, have accused the Butler Area School District and the former superintendent Dale Lumley of not revealing test results showing hazardous levels of lead in an elementary school’s water supply.

The parents allege they were not informed for months that lead had been found in the water supply at Summit Elementary School in Butler, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh.
The plaintiff who represents the class of parents alleges that the school district received test results showing high levels of lead and copper in the school’s water but did not take action or inform the parents right away. Lead levels allegedly were 200 to 300 percent higher than permissible limits. Copper was approaching hazardous levels, the lawsuit claims. Elevated levels of copper and lead in drinking water can lead to lasting injuries and damage to the brain and kidneys.

Parker Waichman notes that schools across the country, including those in Camden and Newark, New Jersey, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Baltimore have had problems with lead in school drinking water. The New York Times reports that Baltimore and Camden have used bottled water for drinking and cooking in schools for a number of years. Many aging school buildings have pipes that leach lead into the water supply. The Times points to years of government of neglect of public schools as a factor in the lead contamination.

School buildings in many of the nation’s cities are old and may have pipes with significant lead content. Congress did not set a maximum level of lead in pipes and fixtures until 1986. That limit—8 percent—remained in effect until Congress lowered it to 0.25 percent starting in 2014. But federal law does not require schools to test their water for lead if the water comes from a public water utility, as the water for most schools does, and so many students have been consuming lead-tainted water. Public health officials are calling on federal and state legislatures to pass laws requiring regular lead testing of school water and prompt disclosure of test results.

No Safe Level of Lead in Drinking Water

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no scientifically accepted safe blood lead level for children: even a small amount of lead can cause lasting problems for a child. Lead exposure can lead to irreversible problems including lower IQ, learning difficulties, and behavioral problems. Lead exposure is particularly dangerous to infants and young children because their bodies may absorb more lead than adults’ bodies do. Their developing brains and nervous systems are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of lead. Lead poisoning often occurs without obvious symptoms, and frequently goes unrecognized until health and learning problems have become severe. The effects of lead cannot be reversed and children with lead poisoning may need support services for their entire school career.

Children can also be exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water at home if they live in a house or apartment building that has older plumbing with lead pipes. Sometimes, as in the case of Flint, Michigan, the lead is in the public water supply. Flint is still dealing with the consequences of switching water supplies in an effort to save money. The highly corrosive Flint River water was introduced into the city’s system without being treated with an anti-corrosive agent, as required by federal law. Residents who drank, cooked with, and bathed in the water suffered a number of health problems, including rashes.

School District Failed to Reveal Dangerous Lead Levels

The Pennsylvania lawsuit alleges that the superintendent and the district’s maintenance director received the water testing results, but did not reveal them to parents in a timely fashion.

The tests were conducted in August 2016 and the district received the results in September. The class action alleges that Lumley and the maintenance director – both have since resigned – contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP) about their obligations to students and parents. According to PEDP records, the agency advised the school district that the water should not be consumed. But that information was not communicated until January 2017, the legal complaint alleges.

“Representative plaintiff has been caused extreme mental and emotional anguish and distress, causing severe depression, nightmares, stress, and/or anxiety, some or all of which have or may require psychological treatment,” the complaint said.

Legal Help for Lead-Contaminated School Water

If you know or suspect that your child’s school has lead-contaminated water, please contact the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP for advice about your legal options. To reach the firm, fill out the online contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).