Lawsuit Alleges Pennsylvania School District Knew About Lead, Asbestos Contamination

February 14, 2020

Current and former employees of a Pennsylvania school district claimed in a lawsuit filed Monday that officials knew for years that unsafe levels of lead and asbestos posed potential health risks for students and staff but never disclosed the information to them or the public.

The plaintiffs are asking for a medical monitoring program for current and former Scranton school district students and staffers, as well as undisclosed damages. They are also seeking class-action status.

The lead plaintiffs are an elementary school principal, a reading specialist and a retired maintenance worker. In the suit, they allege the district received test results from environmental studies, starting in at least 2016, that made officials aware of the issues, but they never informed students, parents, and staffers until last month.

District officials have announced high lead levels at 38 sinks and water fountains in several schools.

The district, two current school board members and 13 former board members are named in the suit as defendants. All the board members named served between 2016-2019.

A message seeking comment was left with the superintendent’s office.

The plaintiffs claim the defendants knew or should have known that all but four of the district’s 18 school buildings posed serious health dangers, and yet failed to take protective measures for reasons known only to them.

Patrick Howard, an attorney with Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky law firm, which filed the suit, noted that health problems related to lead and asbestos exposure can take years, if not decades, to develop and become apparent.

“I’ve advised my clients to get chest x-rays, CTC scans if they’re concerned,” Howard said. “This could be something they want to do for years to come. They shouldn’t have to reach into their pocket for dollar one to pay for health care costs related to this. Some students may not have insurance, and through no fault of their own they may need to have medical oversight and treatment.”

School districts statewide have been grappling with how to address environmental hazards in aging school buildings. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, while lead can cause lifelong brain damage and other injuries, especially in children.

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