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In Wake of EPA Role In D.C.'s Lead Crisis, Group Deems Mayor's Latest Response Woefully Inadequate, and Calls for Federal Funding for A Program of Private Lead Plumbing Replacement, Public Education, Free Filtration Systems and Immediate City Implementation of Solutions
Washington, D.C. --- Media reports reveal that a third actor -- the United States Environmental Protection Agency -- joins the cast of those who have failed to protect the city's children and residents from lead-poisoned drinking water. EPA regional officials knew about the problem of elevated lead levels for at least one year prior to the exposure of the problem to the public and took no action. Mayor Anthony Williams has asked WASA to mail donated water pitcher-style filters to all estimated 23,000 residences with lead service lines, after reaching only a fraction of these affected households through a difficult-to-administer pick-up distribution process. No such plans are underway for affected households with copper or brass service lines.
"This news should galvanize us into action more than ever since all three agencies responsible for our water knew about the problem and sat on their hands, in conspiratorial paralysis. For WASA, the D.C. DOH, and now EPA, to have known about it -- some of them for months, some for years and to have done nothing -- it is criminal," stated Melody Webb, a lawyer and D.C. resident who is heading the effort to immediately provide healthy water alternatives to families from low-income and underserved communities.
The group is calling for the federal government to support a full program of private lead plumbing replacement, public education, free filtration systems and immediate city implementation of solutions, including the Women Infants and Children program for qualified impoverished women and children.
Commenting on the Mayor's response thus far, Webb stated "At the very time that the EPA revelations show the failure of all 3 responsible actors, the Mayor adds insult to injury by throwing out a life raft to some and leaving the other residents to drown in water with high levels of lead. It is time for the Mayor, WASA, and the federal government to bring their public health response in line with the evidence that much of the tap water is poisoned in this city. We are awash in evidence that the problem is not confined to lead service line homes, but the Mayor blindly ignores that fact and leaves the other affected residents to sink or swim."
Originally the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and the D.C. Department of Health reported that the primary risk factor for elevated lead levels was having city-controlled lead service lines. Recent testing has turned up 3% of children with high lead levels, many of them not residents of lead service line homes. So far, at least 9% of homes with copper service lines tested and 4% of homes with brass service lines have turned up high lead levels. "The city is now making filters available to families in lead line serviced homes. It is a start, but still inadequate. What we are still lacking and what we need is real public outreach and public health precautions because the water is so corrosive that it is causing lead to leach from lead pipes within our own property lines, solders connecting copper pipes, lead fixtures, lead plumbing, putting all the city's children and pregnant women at risk" stated Webb.
Other issues that deserve public outcry include the city's failure to provide adequate information and protection to tenants of apartment buildings, which are home to many impoverished women and children. Carolyn McGrier, a grandmother who resides in a Southeast, D.C. apartment building stated "I tried to get filters because I have grandbabies visiting and I am sick and elderly. I made lots of calls, but I got the run-around and so I just gave up trying to get help. It's not right for them to give filters to people in homes and not in apartment buildings when we could be getting water with lead in it too".
According to advocates for bottled water for children in city public schools, the city has similarly failed to take adequate precautions in all of its public schools. "We know that 9 of the schools had excessive lead levels even with the questionable testing protocol that WASA used. And now the schools have been retested because the proportions of this complex problem are still unknown. Nevertheless, the D.C. Public Schools keep the drinking water sources open and accessible to children. The Mayor turns a blind eye to the city's children even as Fairfax County and the Archbishop responsible for Catholic schools in D.C. have taken the precaution of putting potentially dangerous water off limits to their school children." said Webb.
The issue is said to have national political implications. "This goes all the way to the top since President Bush's EPA has relaxed the strict enforcement standards of the '90s'. Democratic Presidential hopeful John Kerry ought to take aim. We are spending all this money in Iraq -- $87 billion-- with $20 billion of it at one point discussed to help rebuild Iraq's water and sewer system. Yet President Bush's federal government has indicated no interest in spending whatever is necessary to stop the poisoning of water in the place where we have situated the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court and the President of the United States himself. Our supporters around the world must be scratching their heads, and our detractors eager to point out the irony of this. While the capital of the free world instructs other nations on how to build infrastructure to foster political stability, the U.S. capital's water system is poisoning American children" stated Melody Webb.
Webb links the issue to D.C.'s lack of full democracy. "All the ingredients are there for a recipe of great injustice. Given that we D.C. residents are disenfranchised -- lacking voting rights, holding only half-baked self governance, and are predominantly African American to boot-- it is no real surprise that this would happen to us" .
The group is calling for a number of measures, including the following:
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