Lead, one of the most common drinking water contaminants, is once again in the news in various cities across the US (Boston, Seattle, Washington D.C.). Lead has been used to join fittings in plumbing systems for decades, and as the plumbing ages, lead begins to leach into the water.
Obviously, the solution to this problem on a macro scale will costs hundreds of millions of dollars—but you don't have to wait for the government to perform feasability studies, cost analysis, planning meetings, and finally remediation. The PWS™ BEV-Series pure water appliances remove 100% of any lead that may be in your drinking water.
Granted, there are cheaper solutions that focus only on removing lead, but what contaminant will be found next? A major problem with drinking water contaminants is we often don't learn about them for decades. The PWS™ BEV-Series are designed to remove ALL contaminants from your drinking water, not just a select few.
(As our site expands, we will be adding a page dedicated specifically to lead and the problems it poses to human health, with links to valuable resources.)
Cities nationwide risk problems similar to the lead found in the Washington area's water supply unless they replace old pipelines, according to water-purification experts.
The nation's aging infrastructure is leaching lead from pipes in old buildings into municipal water supplies, creating a health hazard that is difficult for government to eliminate, said Ralph McCarter, spokesman for the National Rural Water Association.
"If you go into an old house, it's impractical to take the old piping out of the walls," Mr. McCarter said. "Who wants to tear up their kitchen or basement to take the pipes out of the walls? The cost of doing that is really prohibitive."
He is scheduled to testify today before the House Transportation and Infrastructure water resources and environment subcommittee during a hearing on water infrastructure.
A 1999 Environmental Protection Agency survey estimated the nation's drinking-water systems need repairs and upgrades of $150 billion over 20 years.
Nevertheless, EPA officials say the nation's water systems are safe.
"High lead levels are not a pervasive problem," said Cathy Milbourn, EPA spokeswoman.
All but about 3 percent of public pipelines containing lead have been replaced with nontoxic materials, according to the American Water Works Association, a water-treatment industry scientific and educational group.
Pipes with lead solder on the fittings were banned by the 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act.
Nevertheless, some buildings built before 1986 are leaking lead into water systems as they age.
"Unfortunately, Washington, D.C., does not have a corner on that market," Mr. McCarter said.
Resulting health problems can include brain damage, high blood pressure and risk of miscarriage, according to some scientific reports.
Pregnant women and children age 6 and younger are the only populations at risk from lead in the District's drinking water, Dr. Thomas Calhoun, the D.C. Health Department's Emergency Health and Medical Services medical director, said last month.
Jerry N. Johnson, general manager of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), described the cost to repair the nation's water systems as "enormous" in testimony he prepared to deliver to Congress today.
WASA would need to spend $300 million to $350 million to replace its pipelines containing lead, he said. It would cost D.C. residents $6 to $7 a month, he told the D.C. Council in February.
"Age is the primary reason we are confronted with such high estimates of infrastructure-spending needs," Mr. Johnson said in his congressional remarks.
The EPA requires utilities to replace pipelines containing lead anytime water running through them contains more than 15 parts per billion of lead.
More than two-thirds of the approximately 6,000 homes tested in Washington had lead levels exceeding the standard, some as high as 83 parts per billion.
Howard Neukrug, spokes-man for the American Water Works Association, plans to testify that property law restrictions make the replacement difficult.
Some water lines that private property owners share with utilities leak lead into the public systems.
"A public water system has no legal means to compel a property owner to replace a lead service line or portion of a lead service line," Mr. Neukrug's prepared testimony says.
David G. Wallace, mayor of Sugar Land, Texas, who will represent the U.S. Conference of Mayors, plans to ask Congress to lift a cap on tax-exempt municipal bonds to pay for water system projects.
The Conference of Mayors says the bonds would attract private investors to make up the funding shortfall.
By David Nakamura and Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 1, 2005; Page C01
Several D.C. Council members said yesterday that they were outraged that District leaders were not informed about lead contamination in thousands of city homes and called for an immediate review of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority's performance.
The city officials said they were not aware that tap water in 4,075 homes had tested above the federal limit for lead until they read about the tests in yesterday's Washington Post. WASA, which first learned of lead contamination problems in 2002, should have been more diligent in informing the public and answering questions, they said.
"I'm furious about the fact we did not know about this," said Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), head of the council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment, which oversees aspects of the semi-independent water and sewer agency.
"The only way you can solve a problem is to know that there is one," said council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D-At Large). "If you don't know there is a problem, what can you do? The city leadership ought to know. . . . We need to have hearings and work out a solution."
Schwartz's committee has scheduled its annual performance review for WASA on Feb. 10, but Schwartz said she will try to schedule an emergency hearing this week.
"I want to find out what they know, when they knew it and what they're going to do about it," she said.
Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said yesterday that the administration probably will ask WASA and the D.C. Department of Health for a briefing this week. "We'll take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the integrity of the health of that supply system," Bullock said. "The sampling results are alarming, and we are going to get fully engaged in this matter at the earliest opportunity."
Ellen K. Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health in Baltimore, said yesterday that the lead levels in the District are "very, very worrisome." There are high risks, she said, "for pregnant women, those who are nursing and infants. Using water for drinking, formula or even preparing food should be avoided."
Studies have shown that children who ingest lead from water, paint or dust are at greater risk because their gastrointestinal tracts are more likely to absorb the lead and their developing neurological systems are more vulnerable to damage.
Silbergeld recommended that worried residents test the water first before seeking medical exams, saying low levels of lead in children do not produce noticeable symptoms. She also said lead exposure in adults can lead to increased risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases.
The discovery of lead in tap water has caused concern among residents in many D.C. neighborhoods because the city has 23,000 lead service lines that run through all four quadrants.
Eric Pierotti, who runs the plumbing department at Frager's Hardware on Capitol Hill, said the store received many calls yesterday from people who wanted to take precautions. He said callers were inquiring about "water testing kits and filtration systems that cover everything from one tap to the entire house."
WASA officials said they are uncertain why the levels of lead have spiked above the Environmental Protection Agency's lead limit of 15 parts per billion.
Random water testing in about 50 homes flagged the lead contamination in 2002. The EPA has specific guidelines that cities must follow when lead in water exceeds the limit, including informing residents of the risks associated with lead and replacing 7 percent of lead service lines annually.
WASA officials said that in October 2002, they mailed an 11-page brochure about the dangers of lead to every customer in the city. On Page 10, one paragraph noted that during WASA's "last sampling program in the summer of 2001 and June 2002, some . . . homes tested above 15 ppb." That was the only indication in the brochure that a problem had been discovered.
The agency then began replacing 7 percent of its lead service lines each year and undertook a much larger sample -- of more than 6,000 homes -- last summer. That's when widespread problems were discovered.
Glenn S. Gerstell, chairman of WASA's 11-member board of directors, said that WASA had mailed a letter to all 13 D.C. Council members last February noting that initial tests had found that the water exceeded the EPA's lead limit. He acknowledged, however, that the agency did not send follow-up letters after the larger sampling was done last summer. WASA also did not hold a news conference to discuss its findings.
"Could we be more aggressive reaching out? Maybe so," Gerstell said. "That's something the board should look at. We're always eager to improve operations. But I want to negate any suggestion whatsoever we are attempting to minimize or downplay or sweep this under the rug."
Any news conference, Gerstell said, "would have been an unsatisfactory news conference. We did not know what [the contamination] was due to scientifically or where it was coming from or how many homes were involved. We need more tests. A news conference would have raised a lot of questions and provided no answers at that time."
Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) disagreed. "There's no sense of urgency with these guys," Fenty said. "WASA needs to be more accountable."
Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) was one of the few council members who recalled hearing about the lead contamination last summer. He said he was contacted by several constituents who were notified by WASA that their water had high lead levels.
WASA officials met with him at his office, Graham said, and reluctantly agreed to replace lead service lines on one street in his ward.
"We had to hammer them to get this action," Graham said. "It wasn't something where they came in and said, 'Sure, no problem.' It was a very tough conversation. It wasn't easy."
Tom Bryant, whose home in Northwest Washington tested as having high lead levels in the water, attended a community meeting in November at which WASA and D.C. Department of Health officials answered questions.
"They were very forthcoming at that meeting," Bryant said. "They made a big effort. They had three or four people there, and they made a big slide presentation."
But his neighbor, Nancy Lensen-Tomasson, whose water also showed high lead levels, said WASA officials told her they did not plan to replace any lead service lines on her block this year.
"Not enough information has been given out," she said yesterday.
Rebecca Epstein, who lives in American University Park and also has high lead levels in the water, said she fears for the health of her 5-month-old son. But when she told neighbors of the lead in her water, she said, "No one was aware of the problems."
WASA held a public meeting in December at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to discuss the lead problems. But its notice of the meeting, which ran on its Web site and in community newspapers, did not state that lead had been found in tap water.
Georgetown resident Charles Eason, whose water tested 36 times the EPA's lead limit, said that he attended the meeting and that only one other resident was there.
"We're often disappointed at the turnout," said Johnnie Hemphill, WASA's spokesman. "We took the appropriate approach at the time. It's not the case that we were simply being reactive."
WASA said those with concerns should call the WASA hotline at 202-787-2732.