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June 02, 2016

Lawsuit alleges Philadelphia knew of and concealed lead contamination in drinking water

Lawsuit claims city's water tests flawed, alleges city knew water at risk of contamination

A national law firm has hit the city of Philadelphia with a class-action lawsuit that alleges water main construction and repairs have resulted in lead contamination of the drinking water it delivers to resident's homes.

The work on the city's aging water pipes has caused "elevated and unsafe levels" of lead in the drinking water, contends the lawsuit, which also claims the city attempted to conceal the problem.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, contends the city "knowingly conducted [water main] construction projects that exponentially increased the risk of toxic levels of lead in residents’ tap water, and that the city failed to warn residents of the risks and actively concealed the problem through negligent, reckless and deceptive conduct." 

Filed by the law firm of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP on behalf of Eleni Delopoulos of South 48th Street, the lawsuit claims the construction creates a perfect storm for lead pipe corrosion. It alleges the city "decided to conceal this growing health hazard from its own citizens" by rigging its lead testing procedures. Specifically, the lawsuit charges, the city test results are skewed by testing an inordinate number of low-risk homes and by using a method "specifically advised against by the EPA ..."

The lawsuit alleges that the city's replacement of water mains near Delopoulos' home has put her family at an increased risk of lead exposure and poisoning. 

“The city has known and acknowledged that for years construction projects and water main repairs have caused elevated and unsafe levels of lead to contaminate the water traveling through its residents’ homes, and it’s time to come clean,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, in a statement. 

The Philadelphia Water Department's website, however, claims to offer proof that the city's water quality meets "all state and federal standards." 

Representatives of the city's water department did not return calls or emails seeking comment on the litigation. 

Mike Dunn, the city's deputy communications director, said the city was reviewing the suit and currently had no comment on its allegations.