Alarmed by yesterday's Washington Post report revealing that many water utilities have used questionable water testing and reporting methods, two U.S. senators are urging EPA to investigate the matter.
Senate members also renewed a push for stricter sanctions against utilities with lead problems, as well as requirements that the public be promptly alerted to lead risks. Surprisingly, utilities are not currently required to notify homeowners whose tap water tests reveal high levels of lead.
"Clearly, it is time for the federal government to take the recent threats to our public water systems seriously and impose tougher standards and requirements to ensure the public health," wrote Sens. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), in a letter to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt. The letter urges Leavitt to stop maintaining that federal rules were effectively safeguarding the public from lead.
Jeffords and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) called for the EPA investigation. The Post revealed that Philadelphia, Boston and other cities have thrown out water tests yielding high lead readings or have avoided testing homes likely to have lead problems. Also, New York City reportedly has withheld from regulators hundreds of test results showing lead levels above the safety standard.
The findings raise questions regarding recent assurances by EPA officials that Washington, D.C.'s lead problem was an aberration.
EPA officials stated yesterday that they are investigating whether utilities have violated testing rules. In addition, they plan to provide clearer guidance to states and local utilities on how to enforce and comply with the law.
"The quality of drinking water in the United States is among the best in the world," the EPA statement read. "If there are any utilities that have violated federal law by providing false, incomplete or misleading data on drinking water quality, EPA or the state will pursue appropriate penalties under federal and state law."
Clinton and Jeffords wrote to EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley that they hoped her investigation would ascertain, among other things, whether EPA and state regulators disregarded evidence of law-breaking by utilities, thereby failing in their duty to safeguard the public.
"We believe that strong enforcement of EPA's drinking water regulations for lead is a critical public health responsibility of EPA and its state and local partner agencies," Clinton and Jeffords wrote.