A class action lawsuit seeking $200 million was filed against the Washington D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) by the single father of twin boys who were poisoned as infants by lead contaminated tap water. John Parkhurst filed the suit on behalf of himself and other parents in D.C. whose children were poisoned due to extremely high levels of lead in the municipal water supply from 2001 to 2004.
“In June 2001, WASA discovered that that toxic levels of lead were leaching into the District’s drinking water. Not only did the Authority fail to eliminate this danger, it actually took affirmative steps to hide the lead contamination from its customers and federal authorities. At the same time, WASA encouraged the public to consume this dangerous product. As a result, tens of thousands of children and pregnant mothers faced elevated risks for years longer than they should have. WASA’s actions endangered thousands of children living in the District between 2001 and 2004, many of whom, like Jonathan and Joshua Parkhurst, are now profoundly affected by their ingestion of this highly poisonous element.” – Stefanie Roemer, Sanford Wittels & Heisler.
One expert called the contamination and WASA’s efforts to cover up the contamination and its consequences “the largest environmental crime in U.S. history.”
The complaint lays out the defects associated with lead poisoning in kids, including brain damage, decreased growth, reduced IQ levels, speech and balance problems, below-average learning skills, and hyperactivity. A recent study by Dana Best, M.D., of Children’s National Medical Center and Marc Edwards, Ph.D., was cited, which found that elevated levels of lead in D.C.’s children are directly correlated to the amount of the District’s tap water they were exposed to.
“For the first time, parents know who is to blame for the poisoning of their children. The recent study shows that when the levels of lead in the District’s water spiked, there was a 10-fold increase in elevated blood levels of our District’s children. Rather than protect our children, WASA undertook Herculean efforts to shield itself from liability and to otherwise deny responsibility for seven and a half years. Through this lawsuit, parents like Dr. Parkhurst will be able to hold WASA accountable and will be able to get the help their children so desperately need.” – Kate Kimpel, Sanford Wittels & Heisler
Parkhurst’s twin boys first showed evidence of lead poisoning in 2002, during their two-year-old checkup. They have both experienced serious behavioral and learning difficulties and been diagnosed with significant problems in attention and learning. Parkhurst’s costs for their medication and therapy is $30K to $40K per year, which will add up to a half a million dollars by the time they reach 18.
The lawsuit requests $200 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount of money in punitive damages from WASA for failing to notify parents of young children in D.C. of the presence of lead in the drinking water, and for failing to notify them about the dangers associated with drinking the tap water. Also listed in the complaint were the facts that WASA failed to take appropriate measures to remedy the dangers and that it continued to cover up the severity of the lead contamination from 2001 onward. The suit asks for the establishment of a system of medical monitoring and care for the poisoned children, as well as a system of educational intervention and services for the children poisoned by the contaminated water.
Image: Peter Baker at Flickr under Creative Commons