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Credit: Brianna Raposo | Staff Photographer

The national debate about lead contamination in water supplies has flooded into Philadelphia.

Some experts have accused the Philadelphia Water Department of having water testing methods that are “worse than Flint.”

According to an investigation done by The Guardian, Philadelphia has used water testing “cheats” that potentially conceal dangerous levels of lead by instructing testers to “pre-flush” water pipes before testing for lead content, remove aerators from spouts before running water and running water slowly while testing.

There are 33 other cities in the investigation including Chicago, Boston, Detroit and Milwaukee.

The Environmental Protection Agency has warned of using these practices because it could portray lead levels to be lower than they really are.

In lieu of these findings, the water department is facing a class action lawsuit and a lead-testing campaign started by citizens concerned about their water quality. The Hagens Berman Law Firm announced the lawsuit against Philadelphia based on the city’s outdated test practices.

According to a statement by Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, studies show that the construction that is being done in Philadelphia creates the perfect storm for corrosion of the city’s lead pipes.

“Yet the city has decided to conceal this growing health hazard from its own citizens,” Berman said. “To add insult to injury, the city of Philadelphia has actively concealed this issue by rigging its lead-testing procedures.”

A group of private citizens has also launched the Philly Unleaded Project, which hopes to acquire more precise information about lead levels in the city’s tap water compared to what is currently required by law. The group also hopes city residents will do independent home tests.

Two Philadelphia City Council members, including 1998 Penn College of General Studies graduate Helen Gym, revealed a package of bills in a new effort to increase lead safety in schools. If passed by City Council, the bills would require monitoring drinking water for lead and would mandate that daycare facilities be certified as lead safe before they are granted a license to operate.

“If you want to panic, there are things to panic about and it’s not this,” said Gary Burlingame, director of the water department’s Bureau of Laboratory Services. “Are the testing methods outdated? Yes. Could Flint happen here? No, it couldn’t.”

The Philadelphia Water Department’s website states that it has evidence of the fact that the city’s water quality meets “all state and federal standards.”

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