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Christopher Hawthorne, president, American Federation of Government Employees, Local 872
Testimony to Committee on Public Works and the Environment on
Lead in DC WASA tap water
February 25, 2004




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FEBRUARY 25, 2004

Good afternoon, Councilmember Schwartz and others. My name is Christopher Hawthorne and I am the President of AFGE Local 872. I represent the bargaining unit employees at the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority in the Customer Services Division; which houses the following departments- Credit and Collections, Customer Care, Meter Operations, and the Call Center; and the Water Services Division- which houses the following Departments such as Main repair, Water Quality, and Valves, Hydrants and Investigations. These employees are in fact District rate-paying residents.

Madam chair, I -as an employee of WASA request Whistle Blowers protection for the testimony given here today at this hearing, as well as any other hearing. Madam Chair I am deeply concerned about the information being passed to our district residents on the excessive lead levels in our water system as well as the recent reports that I have heard through the media involving the task force involved to find the reasons for the late notice sent to the residents from the Authority.

First, Madam Chair, I have heard testimony from some WASA officials that there is no lead in the water-mains; however, that statement is not absolutely correct. Madam Chair, we use a large amount of lead to hold our larger sized mains from 36 to 70 inch together as washers to join two parts of that water main together. When a leak occurs on these mains, our only recourse of repairing these mains is to jam the lead back into the groves in order to prevent the water mains from coming apart.

Madam Chair these large size mains serve as feeders to the smaller water mains that you would find on all streets to service the public along the taps that provide drinking water to every home here in the District. Also, there is lead found in the most of our old fire hydrants, as well as our water valves. For the public not to have this as knowledge bothers me for I have been working on the districts water distribution system for ten (10) years.

Secondly, I have heard reports that there are no lead lines servicing apartment buildings, business offices, and other large buildings. Madam Chair, this is also not accurate. In some instances, we have two (2') inch lead water service lines- in public space; in the district that service some of these buildings. Also, we have a lot of brass fittings that contain lead and also some brass water services lines; 3/4 to 2 inch in size; that service public homes in which brass fittings or the brass itself contain some levels of lead. Our meters are made of brass and the setters that they are connected to in order to supply water to most homes in the district is made of brass; which also contains some levels of lead.

Madam Chair, I am appalled as a resident of the district, as a ANC Commissioner, and as a Union President at the Authority that Jerry Johnson, the General Manager of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority; was allowed to be a member of the Task Force involved in the problem solving that led to the excessive lead levels and the notice that was sent out to the residents. Madam Chair, the District residents have every right to know if our water is in fact safe to drink. The Authority- managed by Mr. Johnson- clearly knew of this action a long time ago. Instead of notifying the district residents, the Authority used a loop-hole in the regulations that were provided by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) with this kind of knowledge. What bother's me is the intent of using such a loop-hole that would rob the District resident's of their right to know of something this serious and then, to find out that the person behind all of this is on the Task force to resolve the problem?

Madam Chair, I applaud the efforts that are being taken, now that we know of the problem, however, there is a trust issue here in front of every District resident on whatever facts that any WASA officials disclose to our residents for we do not know whether to believe them or not. Furthermore, there is doubt that lingers in the minds of our residents when we are told days before the news reached the press that our water is safe- Now today, there is a water alert.

Madam Chair, I share the frustration of these residents for I myself have a child whom just became 1 years of age. For nine months I have fed my daughter Enfamil, in which I had to use the Districts water supply to make her bottles. Can you imagine the turmoil of withholding such information as excessive lead levels in our water system in order to prevent public shock has caused? I do not know the circumstances involving the process of removal, but someone if not some group of people at the Authority need to be removed now!

Madam Chair, we cannot afford to let such situations as the lead levels in our water system go unnoticed and continue to have people in position with no answer or no solution. What's worst is the fact that I have not heard and apology to the District residents or remorse from any of the Authority's leader for the late notice. However, the Authority had the audacity to send notices to residents on how they plan to raise our water and sewage rates up another five (5%) percent.

Now, as a Union President, Madam Chair I have heard that the work to remove the lead water service lines would be handled by a contractor. Madam Chair, the contractors are the reason why this problem continues to exist for the Authority clearly yanked the workers represented by my Local off of repair these lines and placed the work in the hands of the contractor years ago. It has been reported that the consultant which was hired to hold the records on locations of these lead water services does not even know where the locations of these lines exist; which makes matters more complicated.

However, I as President of Local 872, propose to the Council today that if you give the workers the manpower, and equipment we need to repair these lines, I believe we could repair all of the lead service lines and resolve most of the problems we face today, for Madam Chair- Who can better service the our district residents other than the inside workers that have been performing this work for thirty (30) years or better and are all District residents. Thank you.

Christopher Hawthorne

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