Parents Sue Butler Area School District Over Lead-Tainted Drinking Water
Lead exposure can lead to serious health problems, especially in children. Lead poisoning is particularly a concern with contaminated drinking water, especially following the crisis is Flint, Michigan; concerns over lead exposure are also affecting other parts of the country. A new class action lawsuit has been filed against the Butler Area School District of Pennsylvania and its former superintendent. The suit is filed on behalf of parents who allege that the school waited months to warn students that that water contained unacceptably high levels of lead and copper.
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.
The complaint was filed February in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, court documents show. According to Post-Gazette, testing from the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) showed that the water contained unacceptably high levels of lead. The school reportedly received these results in August 2016, but did not inform staff or parents until January 2017, when they were told not to drink water from the well on the property because it was contaminated with lead. Staff and students received bottled water instead. Furthermore, testing also showed that the water was contaminated with E. coli bacteria, which can cause infections.
The concentration of lead in water should not exceed 15 parts per billion, regulations state. The state DEP testing showed that lead levels were as high as 55 parts per billion. The agency instructed the school to take action immediately.
According to the lawsuit, the school failed to take action within an appropriate time frame. 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 stated that the school received the test results in September. Regardless, parents and students were not informed until January. The superintendent has since resigned.
Where Does Lead Exposure Occur?
Ever since health hazards associated with lead exposure became known, lawmakers have banned its use. About thirty years ago, Congress passed legislation banning the use of new lead pipes. Parker Waichman notes, however, that Americans can still be exposed to lead in certain situations. While new pipes are not made of lead, there are plenty of old lead pipes still in use. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if the water is highly acidic or has low mineral content, lead can enter the drinking water. “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 on its website.
Lead also used to be an ingredient in paint. In older buildings, lead exposure can occur through lead paint and dust.
The CDC says there is no safe level of lead exposure in children. Children can suffer health problems even upon exposure to tiny amounts. Lead poisoning is life-threatening at very high levels.
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.
Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan: Background
Lead in the drinking water became a national topic following the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where 6,000 to 12,000 children were exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water. The issue started in 2014, when the city switched its water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. When switching water sources, officials failed to use corrosion inhibitors. This error proved to be catastrophic; as lead entered the drinking water and reached thousands of residents. In December 2015, Flint declared a state of emergency.
A total of 14 deaths have been attributed to the water crisis.
The water crisis persisted into 2016, and the Detroit News reported that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver renewed the city’s emergency declaration that year. “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.”
Unfortunately, Flint is not the only city to deal with lead in the drinking water. In February 2016, the New York times reported that the town of Sebring, Ohio also had high levels of lead in the drinking water. The issue was identified in 2015, but five months passed before pregnant women and children were warned against drinking the water.
Lead-tainted drinking water is also not a new problem. In 2001, Washington, D.C., changed how it disinfected its drinking water and lead levels jumped up to 20 times the federally approved level. Officials did not notify residents 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.”
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