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Alliance for Healthy Homes 
testimony before the City Council Committee on Public Works and the Environment on the DC Water and Sewer Authority and Its Lead Service Replacement Program
March 17, 2004




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Protecting Children from Lead and Other Environmental Health Hazards
227 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E. #200, Washington, D.C. 20002 202-543-1147 FAX 202-543-4466 www.afhh.orq 

Public Oversight Hearing, Committee on Public Works and the Environment

Statement of Felicia Eaves, Community Assistance Coordinator
The Alliance for Healthy Homes and Lead Emergency Action for the District
March 17, 2004

Good Afternoon Mayor Williams, Chairwoman Schwartz and Members of the Committee. I am Felicia Eaves, Community Assistance Coordinator with The Alliance for Healthy Homes. The Alliance for Healthy Homes was founded in 1990 as the Alliance To End Childhood Lead Poisoning. Our name change in July of 2003 reflects the expansion of our work on lead poisoning prevention to address other housing-related health hazards. The Alliance seeks to protect children from lead and other environmental hazards around their homes by advocating for policy solutions and building capacity for primary prevention in communities throughout the U.S.

Although the short-term objective is to find solutions to the current Lead in Drinking Water crisis in the District of Columbia, I want to take the opportunity to underscore the fact that the major remaining cause of childhood lead poisoning in the District and nationally is lead-based paint hazards in housing, especially housing built before 1950. D.C. tops all U.S. states in percentage of homes built before 1950-51.4%, or more than double the national average of 23. 5%. Most children with elevated blood lead levels are poisoned in their own homes by peeling lead-based paint and the lead dust it generates.

Because historical knowledge about lead exposure and actual early blood testing results both indicate that high water lead levels are not the main source of exposure to lead, D.C. needs to take a comprehensive approach to solutions. The District should redouble its efforts to address all exposure sources that contribute significantly to human lead exposures, especially lead-based paint and dust hazards in older housing.

Specifically, D.C's lead poisoning and housing code laws should be revamped to emphasize prevention of lead poisoning, rather than reacting to hazards after children are poisoned. D.C's. present lead paint laws are based on outmoded approaches that are too strict in some ways, too lax in others and ultimately, are ineffective in protecting children. For example, the laws make the mere presence of lead paint in any pre-1978 home with a young child a code violation even though research shows that intact lead-based paint rarely poses significant health hazard. The same laws overlook other homes with peeling paint and other lead hazards simply because they are not presently occupied by a young child, leaving hazards in places where young children will certainly live or visit in the future.

Most egregiously, the city does not check high-risk homes until after a child has been poisoned. In effect, the District relies on children as lead detectors for all practical purposes. On the other hand, D.C. sometimes forces property owners to treat safe remodeling projects as costly lead abatement jobs, ignoring the practical middle ground of following Lead Safe Work Practices for painting and remodeling projects.

Therefore, we urge the City of D.C. to adopt the following recommendations:

  • Share information about the lead in drinking water issue (e.g. ongoing water test results, results of experiments to determine causes of and solutions for the problem, blood testing results, results from risk assessments of homes, etc.) with the public immediately.
  • Take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with the D.C. universal lead blood testing law, especially for children enrolled in Medicaid who are the highest risk group.
  • Although lead poisoning crosses all lines of income, race, class, and geography, risk is primarily concentrated in low-income communities of color, where children are five times as likely to have elevated blood lead levels (EBL's) than white children. Therefore, expand programs in D.C. that screen high-risk homes for lead paint hazards and ensure that hazards that are found are safely eliminated.
  • Include non-governmental, public interest organizations in all lead poisoning and safe drinking water task forces and work - groups to ensure openness and accountability.

In conclusion, all agencies that bear responsibility should publicly disclose what they knew and when concerning the lead contamination of water, and what actions are now being undertaken to investigate and address the problem.

We appreciate the time and attention that has been provided on this issue.

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