Relative calm settles over Lincoln

Times Correspondent

ROSELAWN -- The drinking water contamination that left this rural Indiana town reeling last spring has quieted since, but some parents still are seething over what they believe could be a lifelong threat to their children's health.
High levels of the gasoline constituent and suspected carcinogen methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, were found in Lincoln Elementary School's drinking water. The contamination was made public in April, but lab results showed that students were exposed to it for at least two years. In addition, air-quality tests revealed mold contamination in the school.

To a number of parents, the findings were a possible answer to why their children had been suffering from a host of vague illnesses, from stomach aches and headaches to more serious maladies.

Some students' symptoms cleared up when school was not in session, only to return when students returned to classes, parents have said. And though the water has been declared safe, some students still display symptoms.

A custom-made activated carbon filter was installed in the school's water system in August, and the water now is MTBE-free, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which is monitoring groundwater testing around the school and will oversee cleanup of the groundwater and soil when it begins.

Lincoln still is offering bottled water to any students who prefer not to drink the school's well water.

Accusations of responsibility for the public health nightmare have been cast in a number of directions - to North Newton school district officials, the oil company named responsible for the contamination, the labs responsible for routine water testing at the school, and even IDEM itself.

Parents earlier this year submitted an 800-signature petition to the North Newton School Board seeking the ouster of Superintendent Louis Lindinger, a move that the board would have to make by the end of December should it decide not to renew Lindinger's contract for next year.

Lindinger could not be reached for comment.

Additionally, some parents have taken legal steps to make sure that whoever is responsible will pay. One tort claim notice filed on behalf of several parents seeks $1 million in damages.

Parent George Witczak has contacted an attorney in Indianapolis, but said the community is currently quiet about the issue.

"Nobody's saying anything more," he said. "Not much is going on."

Crystal Price, who withdrew all four of her children from Lincoln after the contamination became public, said her children would probably not return.

"I have yet to see any steps toward cleaning up the water under Roselawn," Price said. "I know a lot of parents who are still sending water to school with their kids. I know if mine were there I wouldn't even let them wash their hands."

And as far as the mold issue, Price said other parents "are complaining that their kids are sick again," even though the school district has taken steps to eliminate the mold.

Other parents, however, wonder if the school is the cause of students' illnesses.

"My daughter has been going to that school for two years, and she never was ill at all," Joyce McCartney said. "If there is a problem, why aren't more children ill? If parents feel their children may get cancer or seizures because of the water, they need medical proof."

Medical proof is exactly what some parents' lawyers currently are trying to pursue.

Geoff Giorgi, who is representing 15 families, said he has not yet filed legal proceedings other than tort claim notices to the school district and IDEM.

"We are still working with experts linking up causes of the kids' illnesses," Giorgi said. The Indiana attorney general's office sent Giorgi a denial of IDEM's responsibility, according to both Giorgi and the attorney general's office.

In the meantime, IDEM still is monitoring additional testing going on to the north and east of the school to make sure the contamination has not traveled, said IDEM spokesman Keri McGrath.

"IDEM gathered samples from the Generations Center (north of the school) drinking well," McGrath said. "It doesn't look as if it hasmoved down gradient or contaminated any more drinking water wells at this time," she said.

Mundell and Associates, which is testing Lincoln's well water, has requested a decrease in the frequency of testing "since everything is coming back clean," McGrath said.

IDEM has not yet acted on that request, she said. "We have to look at some things first," she said.


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