PITTSBURGH (CN) – Water in a school district north of Pittsburgh is so heavily contaminated with lead and copper that a student suffered irreversible damage to her nervous system and the entire school is being tested, her parents say in a federal class action.
Lead plaintiff Jennifer Tait sued the Butler Area School District and its former Superintendent Dale Lumley on behalf of her daughter.
Lumley resigned on Sunday, Feb. 5. The school board accepted his resignation, effective immediately.
Butler, pop. 14,000, the seat of Butler County, is 35 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Tait claims officials knew the drinking water at Summit Elementary School contained dangerously high levels of copper and lead for at least five months before they notified families.
Documents indicate that Tait is correct.
A two-page Jan. 19 document from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, “Important Information About Lead in Your Drinking Water,” begins: “Shortly after August 15, 2016, the Butler Area School District received test results which found elevated levels of lead in drinking water tap samples. Lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children.”
The document includes lead levels recorded on tested of Aug. 15, and 29, as high as 55 parts per billion, though levels as high as 15 ppb are “unacceptable.” It says the school district maintenance director “has been working with the DEP in an effort to address the water quality issues identified in the testing and the district’s responsibilities”.
The document does not indicate to whom it was distributed. It states on Page 2:
“1. All drinking fountains have been shut off and ‘bagged’ in the Summit Elementary School.
“2. Bottled water will continue to be provided throughout the building.
“3. Hand sanitizer will be used in the bathroom.
“4. All students, staff and visitors will be informed of the water quality issues and expressly told not to drink or consume in any form Summit Elementary School’s well water, only bottled water.
“5. Signs indicating that well water must not be consumed will be posted throughout the school.”
However, Superintendent Lumley said in a Jan. 20 statement on school district letterhead: “The students and staff at Summit Elementary School in Summit Township were given bottled water yesterday and told not to drink the water from the well on the property. Dr. Dale Lumley, Superintendent, said that the steps were taken in response to elevated lead readings from the well.
“Lumley said that elevated readings were first detected last September by our maintenance supervisor who had been working with the DEP to address the test results of the water in the building. ‘We had readings in August with significantly high levels of lead,” he said, ‘but those results were not shared with me or the board until yesterday.’”
An undated notice from the school district states that the Butler Health System will be at Summit Elementary School on Feb. 16 “to perform blood lead level and serum copper level testing of students, faculty and staff,” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parents must make an appointment and accompany their child to the test.
At a community meeting over the weekend, school officials said lead tests would be free for the families.
Jennifer Tait says in the 18-page lawsuit that by the time the school district notified her, her daughter had already suffered irreversible damage to her central nervous system.
“Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children,” the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said in its notice of Jan. 19.
Lumley said in his Jan. 20 letter that the district had taken the steps that were recommended by the state, including disconnecting drinking fountains, and distributing bottled drinking water and hand sanitizer.
Tait seeks class certification, medical monitoring, and damages for negligence, failure to warn, physical injuries, pain and suffering, violation of the constitutional right to bodily integrity and due process, conspiracy, recklessness and deliberate indifference.
She is represented by Douglas Olcott with Dallas Hartman, and Brendan Lupetin, with Meyers Evans Lupetin & Unatin, both of Pittsburgh.