D.C. Water Problems Not Confined to Lead Pipes

March 12, 2004

Fifty-one homes with copper service lines were found to have water with high lead levels during an initial batch of testing by the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, officials announced today.

Ever since news of the lead contamination problem was first disclosed by The Washington Post six weeks ago, WASA officials have claimed that the problem was limited to homes with lead service lines — an estimated 23,000 homes.

Of the 556 houses with copper service lines tested last month, 51 had water with lead levels higher than the federal standard of 15 parts per billion, according to WASA officials.

City health officials last month issued a health advisory warning pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 6 years old not to drink unfiltered water — only if they live in homes with lead service lines.

Residents who live in homes with copper lines were told simply to flush their taps for about one minute.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb told Washington Post staff writer David Nakamura more than 3,000 more tests results are due back next week and officials will wait until then to get a fuller picture of how widespread the lead problem is.

Bobb also said the initial results on tests of homes with copper lines show that WASA and the city are "right to focus on the homes with lead service lines."

But others disagree. EPA requires specific action when a water system finds that more than 10 percent of its homes have water with high lead levels. In the District's case, the initial results of tests on copper homes reveals that the city is close to tipping the EPA's action level on those homes alone.

Homes with copper service lines can have water with high lead levels because those homes might have pipes with lead solder or brass fixtures that contain a portion of lead. WASA officials believe the chemicals used to purify the city's drinking water has corroded the lead on pipes, solder and fixtures.

In all, WASA officials said that they have distributed more than 11,000 water test kits in the past six weeks. Of those, about 7,000 have been returned by residents and sent to labs for testing.

Source: The Washington Post