Saturday, January 31, 2009

5 Year Anniversary

After five years of official assurances that the city’s 2001-2004 lead-in-water crisis did not cause significant health harm, we now learn that hundreds, if not thousands, of infants and toddlers experienced blood lead levels above the Centers for Disease Control “level of concern,” as a result of the contamination. Those children are at risk of irreversible IQ loss, developmental delays, and behavioral problems.

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the Washington Post front page article informing District residents about a citywide contamination of our drinking water with lead. This article reported that in the summer of 2003, 4,075 of 6,118 homes tested dispensed high levels of lead at the tap. In over 2,000 of those homes, lead concentrations exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's "action level" of 15 parts per billion by three times or more. Some water lead measurements were in the hundreds and even thousands parts per billion.

WASA had known about a lead-in-water problem since mid-2001, but did not begin notifying homeowners until November 2003. Lynette Stokes, MD, who oversaw the DC Department of Health lead screening program, told the Washington Post that lead dust and paint posed “a far greater risk” than contaminated water. Dr. Stokes’ statement did not take into account the following:

  • EPA’s estimate that in areas with lead-contaminated water like DC, “the total drinking water contribution to overall lead levels may range from as little as 5 percent to more than 50 percent of children’s total lead exposure. Infants dependent on formula may receive more than 85 percent of their lead from drinking water" (Federal Register, Vol. 56, No. 110, June 7, 1991, p. 26470). This statement was published at a time when lead sources other than water were more prevalent than they are now.

  • Numerous scientific studies showing that for formula-fed infants and young children contaminated drinking water can be a potent pathway of exposure to lead (see references in Edwards et al. 2009 study)

  • The concentrations of lead in DC’s drinking water were unprecedented in modern US history.

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