D.C. Lead Contamination Casts Doubt on EPA Testing Methods

The ongoing drama over lead contamination in Washington, D.C., tap water promises to spill over (ahem) to the rest of the country, as a hearing on Capitol Hill today examines how federal agencies handle local drinking-water safety. Extensive testing of residential tap water by the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority — conducted in an effort to avoid federal penalties — revealed a problem much deeper than previously thought. Lead levels rose as faucets ran for more than a minute; unsafe levels of lead were found in new homes without lead service lines; and leached lead was found in water coming from brass faucets. All these results cast serious doubt on the standards the U.S. EPA uses to test for lead in drinking water and suggest that many cities elsewhere in the country may have similar lead problems. In a statement, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) worried that “D.C. could be the canary in the coal mine for a broader national lead contamination problem.”