DC Children Poisoned By WASA

Posted February 17th, 2009.

Father of Twins Seeks Medical Monitoring and Care, Fund for Medical Expenses And Educational Services for Poisoned Sons & Other Affected District Children

For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newsPRos, 201-493-1027

(February 17, 2009, Washington, DC) – The father of eight year-old twin boys, who were poisoned as infants when WASA provided their homes with lead-contaminated tap water which their father then used to make their formula, today has filed a class action lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the Washington DC Water and Sewage Authority (WASA).
John Parkhurst filed the complaint on behalf of himself and other parents of children in the District affected by the dangerous levels of lead in the community’s drinking water during the period of 2001 through 2004. Dr. Parkhurst is represented in the matter by David Sanford, Steven Wittels, Jeremy Heisler, Stefanie Roemer, Katherine Kimpel and Felicia Medina of Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP, a leading national class action law firm with offices in Washington, DC, NYC and San Francisco.

According to the complaint, one independent expert has characterized the long-standing water contamination and WASA’s efforts to keep its customers in the dark about the contamination and its consequences as perhaps “the largest environmental crime in U.S. history.”

“In June 2001, WASA discovered that that toxic levels of lead were leaching into the District’s drinking water,” said Stefanie Roemer of Sanford Wittels & Heisler. “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.”

The filing details a range of defects associated with lead poisoning in children, including decreased growth, speech and balance problems, below-average learning skills, reduced IQ levels, loss of executive function, hyperactivity and brain damage. It cites a recent study by Dana Best, M.D., of Children’s National Medical Center and Marc Edwards, Ph.D. and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech that found elevated levels of lead in the District’s children are directly correlated to the amount of D.C. drinking water to which they had been exposed.

“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,” said Kate Kimpel, a former D.C. public school teacher now an attorney at Sanford Wittels & Heisler. “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.”
Jonathan and Joshua Parkhurst first showed evidence of lead poisoning in 2002, at their two-year-old medical checkup. Both boys have experienced serious and continuing behavioral and learning difficulties and both have been diagnosed with significant problems in attention, learning and executive functioning. The current total cost for their medication and therapy is $30,000 to $40,000 a year; assuming no increase in the costs of medication and therapy going forward, by the time the children reach 18 years of age, Dr. Parkhurst will have spent approximately $500,000.00 in combined costs of medication and therapy.

The suit seeks injunctive relief, $200 million in compensatory damages, and an unspecified amount of money in punitive damages from WASA for failing to notify Dr. Parkhurst and other parents of young children in the District about the presence and prevalence of lead in its drinking water, as well as failing to notify plaintiffs about the dangers associated with consuming D.C. water; failing to take appropriate measures to remedy the dangers inherent in consuming the District’s water; and continuing to cover up the severity and adverse consequences of the contamination from 2001 to the present. The relief sought for all members of the class includes establishing a system of ongoing medical monitoring and care for the children poisoned by the contaminated water and establishing a system of targeted educational intervention and services for children poisoned by lead in the contaminated water.

About the firm

Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco has extensive experience in mass toxic tort litigation, products liability, civil rights and consumer fraud class actions.

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