Lawsuit: Scranton school district knew about environmental contamination

Scranton School District Administration Building (Google Maps)

Scranton School District Administration Building (Google Maps)

A federal lawsuit filed Monday claims a Pennsylvania school district knew for years that unsafe levels of lead and asbestos in its schools posed potential health risks for students and staffers but never disclosed the information to them or the public.

The suit seeks the establishment of a medical monitoring program for current and former Scranton school district students and staffers, as well as undisclosed damages. It also seeks class-action status.

It claims 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 suit names the district, two current school board members and 13 former board members as defendants. All the board members named served between 2016-2019.

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

The suit claims 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 & Bende 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.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal