Parents seek to expand D.C. lead-in-water lawsuit

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

A lawsuit against D.C. Water in connection with acknowledged lead contamination in the city’s drinking water supply could grow far larger if a judge approves a request to make the case a class-action suit.

In a motion filed Thursday, attorneys for John Parkhurst and other parents involved in the ongoing suit sought to expand the litigation to include any person who, between 2000 and 2004, was under 6 years old, consumed water from the District Water and Sewer Authority (now D.C. Water) and has a level of lead in the blood that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called a "concern."

“The number of child victims is not precisely known but likely exceeds 1,000,” attorneys wrote in the filing.

A class-action certification could dramatically enhance the potential liability for D.C. Water, and the lawsuit seeks $200 million in damages.

A spokeswoman said a ruling on the certification motion isn’t expected for several months.

In March, a city report found that D.C. Water rigged its testing of lead levels by intentionally avoiding tests in parts of the District known for having higher lead levels in the tap water.

Investigators also found that water officials had provided “misleading information” to the D.C. Council and failed to use approved testing methods.

After the report's release, a spokesman for D.C. Water said the agency’s past problems were not reflective of the present.

“There’s an entirely new management team in this place as of more than two years ago,” Alan Heymann said. “I wouldn’t want anything in a report about something that happened… years ago to undermine anyone’s confidence in the safety of water today.”

The city says that scientists aren’t sure whether water is to blame for high levels of lead in the blood of District kids.

“Lead experts and health officials cannot determine with certainty whether a correlation exists between lead levels in District tap water and lead-poisoned children,” Inspector General Charles Willoughby wrote earlier this year.

But Parkhurst and other litigants disagree.

“By ingesting water-borne lead, each of the named plaintiffs developed a blood-lead level above the CDC’s level of concern,” Thursday’s filing says. “Each now exhibits neuropsychological and cognitive symptoms of lead poisoning.”

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