U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- Officials of the city's water authority came
under criticism recently at a congressional hearing into elevated
lead levels in some tap water.
``It's clear that the (District of Columbia) Water and Sewer
Authority (WASA) was highly ineffective at informing the public of
the magnitude of the problem,'' said Donald Welsh, regional
administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA
has now ordered WASA to test all of its lead service lines.
WASA has also been instructed to provide faster notification to
customers of the results of water testing. The agency must also add a
sense of urgency to its public statements about the lead issues. WASA
was criticized for placing lead warnings in a little-read newsletter
enclosed in bills.
The district gets drinking water from the Washington Aqueduct,
which also supplies Arlington County, Va., where elevated lead levels
turned up in tests on five homes. But while an estimated 20 percent
of WASA's 130,000 service lines contain lead, none of the Arlington
homes use lead lines. That leaves a mystery as to how lead got into
``We do not see a direct link between elevated lead levels and the
use of chloramines,'' said Thomas P. Jacobus, general manager of the
Washington Aqueduct. In November 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers,
which operates the aqueduct, switched from chlorine to chloramines, a
compound made up of ammonia and chlorine molecules, in part to comply
with federal standards.
In early 2001, tests began finding lead levels exceeding 15 parts
per billion in thousands of homes served by lead service lines in the
district. The 15 ppb is an action level established by the EPA, which
triggered the need for WASA to take certain steps including stepped
up testing, consumer notification and line replacements.
WASA chairman Glenn S. Gerstell said he is certain the lead
leaching into the tap water is not originating in WASA's mains.
Pregnant and nursing women and children under six have been
advised not to drink unfiltered water, and all D.C. residents have
been advised to let water run for at least 10 minutes before using it
for drinking or cooking.
``I want to know whether D.C. is a canary in a coal mine,'' said
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., raising the question that other
communities around the country may be experiencing similar problems.
``People need to know if their water is safe, and if not, what is
being done to make it safe,'' said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chair of
the House Government Reform Committee. ``Somewhere between the source
and the spigot, something's going wrong.''
Dozens of residents came forward to claim free water filters and
get their blood tested in response to last month's discovery of lead
in the drinking water.
The city's Emergency Management Agency distributed about 300
filters at the D.C. Armory and Reeves Center to residents who have
lead service lines and are pregnant, nursing or have children under
the age of six.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the D.C.
Water and Sewer Authority to provide bottled water or filters for
some 23,000 city homes believed to have lead service lines.
Also, about 100 residents had their blood tested for lead exposure
at two clinics in the city.
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