A new report has found that D.C.’s drinking water crisis from a few years ago may have been worse than originally thought.
A House subcommittee released the findings of the new report on Thursday. It claims that in 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrongfully claimed that high levels in the District’s drinking water were not a public risk.
At that time, many parents panicked and demanded an investigation, which led to chemical changes and the replacement of some lead pipes into homes.
In 2004, the CDC said the lead levels in the water weren’t high enough to cause any harm. However, the new House report shows the health agency made that analysis without test results from the children who may have suffered from lead poisoning.
The report also found that the number of kids who had elevated blood-lead levels in 2002 and 2003 was more than three times higher than what the CDC reported.
“This ... confirms what the D.C. Council and the advocates -- DC Appleseed, Clean Water Action and others -- have been saying since 2004. Our children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead in our water,” said Councilmember Jim Graham, chairman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment. “To now learn that the Centers for Disease Control not only got it wrong but may have intentionally misled District residents and our water agency is the ultimate betrayal of the public trust.”
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority emphasized that a chemical to lessen lead leaching into water from aging lead pipes in older homes has been added to improve water, News4's Tom Sherwood reported.
WASA said the city water is safe to drink except for routine, long-standing exceptions common for most municipal water supplies: pregnant women, children under the age of 6 and people with immune impairments (like HIV/AIDS) should only consume filtered water.
On Thursday, a hearing on Capitol Hill examined the policies and procedures used in drawing those public health conclusions. It also focused on helping to reform environmental public health practices. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sat with the House Science and Technology subcommittee during the hearing.
"The CDC has participated in nothing short of a coverup that may have harmed families, especially children, in ways that could be difficult to redress," Norton said after the hearing.
Norton noted the CDC has not apologized, though CDC Deputy Director Dr. Robin Ikeda said she'll work to ensure residents who were told there were no harmful levels of lead in their water in 2004 get assistance they need from D.C. and the CDC, Norton's office said.
According to the city, lead levels have been in the safe range since 2006.
Lead has been known to cause brain damage and developmental problems in children.