A District resident filed a $200 million lawsuit against the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority last week, alleging that lead-contaminated tap water poisoned his twin sons during infancy and is the underlying cause of their ongoing health problems.
In the D.C. Superior Court class-action lawsuit plaintiff John Parkhurst claimed that WASA was responsible for hiding unsafe levels of lead between 2001 and 2004 and for failing to warn District residents about potential health risks involved in consuming their water.
According to the complaint filed with Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP, lead poisoning is known to cause unborn infants and young children physical, intellectual and psychological disorders, including the possibility of irreversible IQ loss and the development of learning disabilities.
In the lawsuit Parkhurst alleges that he prepared baby formula with the tap water provided to his home from the time he adopted his sons at eight months old from Vietnam until 2002, when the twins exhibited evidence of lead poisoning at their 2-year-old checkup, according to the Associated Press. The boys, now eight, have continued to experience behavioral and learning difficulties, with treatment costs for both children totaling around $30,000 per year.
“In June 2001, WASA discovered that toxic levels of lead were leaking into the District’s drinking water,” Stefanie Roemer of Sanford Wittels & Heisler said in the firm’s Feb. 17 press release. “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. … As a result, tens of thousands of children and pregnant mothers faced elevated risks for years longer than they should have.”
The filed complaint claims that “WASA’s efforts at this cover-up violated federal law as established by EPA regulations and as concluded in an EPA order. . Through these and other tactics, WASA downplayed the seriousness of the lead contamination of its water.”
The case comes in response to a study by Virginia Tech and the Children’s National Medical Center, which was published in The Washington Post in January. The study could confirm that contaminated WASA water resulted in the lead poisoning of thousands of D.C. children. According to AP, when Dr. Parkhurst read about the study in The Washington Post, he began to make the connection between his sons’ condition and the reported effects of lead ingestion.
The study reported that 42,000 fetuses and infants had high concentrations of lead in their blood between 2001 and 2004, resulting from the public water crisis of that time. Additionally the report claimed that WASA and other government and city officials may have tried to cover up evidence that lead levels in the water were too high and that the methods of measuring those levels may have been faulty. The lead levels were likely not high enough to affect adults but may have had irreversible effects on children and fetuses during that period.
In response to recent negative outcry following the study’s release, WASA has said that they are looking into the claims made about lead levels in their water from 2001-2004 and that current water lead levels are safe.
In a Feb. 1 Letter to the Editor sent to The Washington Post, William M. Walker, WASA Chairman said, “I can assure the public that WASA will provide them with a full accounting of what we find in reexamining the research on lead in the Districts water. Clearly, no one of any age in the area should ever be placed at risk of exposure to lead. But I would like WASA customers to know: Your water is safe to drink, and WASA is watching out for your health and well-being and that of your children. Please remember, they are our children, too.”