Mother sues Pennsylvania school district over lead-tainted water

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By Jonathan Allen | NEW YORK

NEW YORK A mother is suing her daughter’s
Pennsylvania school district for its delay in telling parents
that the water at her school was contaminated with toxic levels
of lead, according to a complaint filed in a U.S. federal court
on Wednesday.

The Butler Area School District told parents in a letter on
Jan. 20 that test results, which they acknowledged receiving
five months earlier, had found leads levels at Summit Elementary
School “exceeding acceptable water standards.”

Jennifer Tait, whose daughter attends the school, says
officials should have said something as soon as the test results
came through last August, according to her lawsuit filed in the
U.S. District Court in nearby Pittsburgh.

Despite lead abatement efforts beginning in the 20th
century, when lead was once commonly used in pipes and paint,
communities across the United States continue to be exposed to
dangerous levels of the metal. Lead poisoning can permanently
stunt a child’s intelligence and development.

The issue came to the fore again in 2015 after state
officials in Michigan acknowledged that the water supply in the
city of Flint had been contaminated by lead. While Flint drew
headlines, Reuters last year found nearly 3,000 other
communities across the United States were found to have even
higher rates of lead poisoning.

In her lawsuit, Tait accuses school district officials in
Butler of a “gross delay” in notifying parents, saying her
daughter and other students routinely drank water tainted with
toxic levels of lead for the five months between the test
results coming in and the letter going out.

The district officials’ actions in effect created “a school
full of poisonous drinking water,” her lawsuit said. She is
seeking damages for negligence, among other charges, and is
asking the court to allow others at the school to join her in
the lawsuit.

William Pettigrew, the school district’s acting
superintendent, referred questions about the lawsuit to the
district’s lawyer, who did not immediately respond to a request
for comment.

Pettigrew took over after Dale Lumley, who is named as a
defendant in the lawsuit, resigned and retired on Sunday,
Pettigrew said. Lumley could not immediately be reached for
comment. The district’s director of maintenance also resigned
this week, Pettigrew said.

“The school is closed under my recommendation,” Pettigrew
said. The children are now being taught in a vacant school
building nearby, he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says lead
concentrations in drinking water should be below 15 parts per
billion. The school’s water was found to contain lead at levels
nearly four times higher than this limit, with one sample
measured at 55 parts per billion, according to the Jan. 20
letter, which is posted on the district’s website.

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