Res­i­dents Seek Re­as­sur­ance On Safety of Drink­ing Wa­ter

The Washington Post - - The District - By Clarence Wil­liams

D.C. Wa­ter and Sewer Author­ity of­fi­cials faced heated ques­tions and con­cerns last night from a small group of res­i­dents and ac­tivists at a meet­ing about the util­ity’s idea to scale back its re­place­ment of lead wa­ter pipes across the city.

Gen­eral Man­ager Jerry N. John­son told about a dozen res­i­dents that Dis­trict drink­ing wa­ter meets fed­eral guide­lines since a chem­i­cal was added in 2004 to pre­vent lead leech­ing from pipes and that no sig­nif­i­cant health is­sues have been de­tected. The author­ity also re­placed nearly half of its 35,000 lead pipes in pub­lic space at a cost of $93 mil­lion, John­son said.

Of­fi­cials faced strong crit­i­cism from the crowd when they ex­plained that the par­tial re­place­ment pro­gram, which re­places pipes on pub­lic prop­erty while re­ly­ing on home­own­ers to re­place lines on private prop­erty, had not re­sulted in a sig­nif­i­cant change in lead lev­els but could not pro­vide de­tailed data.

“We are par­ents and we’re con­cerned about our chil­dren, and we’re not get­ting an­swers from WASA,” said Yanna Lam­brinidou, pres­i­dent of Par­ents for Non­toxic Al­ter­na­tives, af­ter a five-minute heated ex­change be­tween John­son and au­di­ence mem­bers.

WASA of­fi­cials held the meet­ing in South­east Wash­ing­ton as the first of five fo­rums to dis­cuss the pro­gram’s progress and to gather pub­lic in­put about its fu­ture. Four meet­ings are sched­uled through Fe­bru­ary.

The pipe re­place­ments be­gan to help the agency com­ply with fed­eral rules af­ter WASA found ex­ces­sive lev­els of lead in some tap wa­ter in 2002. Of­fi­cials said last night that lead lev­els spike in about 5 per­cent of homes af­ter pipes are re­placed but could not pro­vide more de­tails, a fact that be­came a flashpoint.

“We’re talk­ing about a lot of peo­ple. Five per­cent is a pretty big [num­ber of peo­ple] in this city,” said Ralph Scott, a Capi­tol Hill res­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Al­liance for Healthy Homes.

“We’re meet­ing the re­quire­ments of the law,” John­son re­sponded. But he said con­cerned peo­ple could re­quest more data or sched­ule a de­tailed brief­ing.

“We just did not come pre­pared to get into that level of de­tail,” he said.

Lead lev­els were pro­duced pri­mar­ily by treat­ing the wa­ter with the chem­i­cal or­thophos­phate, said of­fi­cials, who con­tended that the orig­i­nal ac­cel­er­ated pipe re­place­ment sched­ule is not needed. How­ever, the agency is con­sid­er­ing mov­ing ahead with the ac­cel­er­ated re­place­ments to fin­ish in 2016 at an ad­di­tional cost of $315 mil­lion.

“Charge me now, so when you have to pay for this 20 years from now, you won’t be eat­ing into my So­cial Se­cu­rity checks,” said James Bunn, 65, of Congress Heights.

Lam­brinidou said in an in­ter­view that WASA failed to pro­vide an­swers to the sim­plest of ques­tions.

“We in D.C. are not push­ing WASA to be ac­count­able,” she said.

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