A recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that lead in the drinking water may continue to be a problem in many homes in D.C. Commentator Walter Smith is the executive director of DC Appleseed, an organization that has been studying the lead in the water issue. Smith says there are several steps the city should take now to address the issue:
The recent CDC report confirms that the District must do more to protect our children from lead in the city's drinking water. The report finds that children living in homes with a lead service line are at an increased risk of having higher blood lead levels than children in homes without them.
The report also makes clear that when it comes to children, there is no safe blood lead level, and that childhood lead exposure can cause developmental delay, behavior disorders and seizures. There are common-sense tips that could and should be taken immediately to address this serious threat to the city's children. These steps are essential to the same ones that DC Appleseed called for in Dec. 2004, when we issued our report on the lead on the water crisis at the request of the D.C. Council. CDC's related recognition that the crisis has yet to be fully addressed provides an opportunity for the city at long-last to get this right.
Here are the steps we think should be taken:
First, the District and DC Water should develop and implement new, broader independent testing program, which is essential to provide D.C. residents with an accurate gauge of lead in our drinking water. The current federal drinking water testing and compliance program is insufficient to accurately assess the risk from lead in drinking water in our most vulnerable neighborhoods.
Moreover, because lead in the drinking water remains a persistent issue, DC Water and the District should implement a broader public communication effort to inform residents of the lead risk and let them know what the government is doing and what they themselves can be doing to minimize that risk.
Finally, the District should implement a more stringent drinking-water standard than the one required by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The federal standard that triggers action on lead in the drinking water is simply inadequate to protect the public's health. In fact, the CDC study itself found that lead service lines were a risk factor for elevated blood lead levels among D.C.'s children even when the levels of lead in the water met the federal standard.
The District can and should be a leader on this critical public health issue. DC Water's general manager, George Hawkins, has rightly identified the threat of lead in the drinking water as a top priority, and he has confirmed that accurate public information and a better testing regime should be critical elements of DC Water strategy to protect the public's health.
These steps can and should be pursued right now, without additional study or scientific debate. D.C. residents have waited too long for the necessary action to make drinking water safe for themselves and their children.
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