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New Act Passed by D.C. Council Would Break Mayor’s Promise to Adopt Health-protective Standard for Lead in School Water

D.C. Parents disappointed with weakened standards to protect schoolchildren from lead exposure
A girl drinks from a water fountain.

Current filtering technology is capable of consistently achieving lead-in-water concentrations of one ppb or lower, when filters are installed properly at the point of use, and maintained and replaced according to manufacturer specifications.

Craig RJD / Getty Images
August 1, 2017
Washington, D.C. —

D.C. parents and the national Campaign for Lead Free Water (CLFW) are deeply disappointed in the D.C. Council’s decision to weaken a bill that would have protected  children from lead-dispensing drinking water sources in public schools and related facilities. These facilities are riddled with lead pipes, lead bearing plumbing and lead-leaching water coolers used for drinking and cooking children’s meals. 

In a last-minute decision, the Council abandoned the 1 part per billion (ppb) standard of the draft law in favor of a less protective 5 ppb standard. The Council justified its surprising shift by claiming that the water filter technology relied upon to remove lead from water is incapable of meeting a 1 ppb standard at every tap, disregarding information by city residents that filters at D.C. public schools and related facilities don’t function at maximum effectiveness because of improper installation. 

“As parents we demand honesty about the degree of public health protection current technologies are able to provide, proper installation of lead-certified filters, and a law that is guided by science,” said Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, a longtime advocate for lead-free water in DC schools. “Over thirty years after the first recorded lead problems in the District’s school water, this Act fails on all three counts and continues to gamble with the health and future of DC's children.”

In a message hand-delivered to the mayor’s office, longtime DC resident Roger Green stated: “1 ppb is the health protective standard that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, and it is the standard that you, Mayor Bowser, promised DC residents and the nation in a policy announced in June 2016...As a Ward four resident, I have voted for you during every election that you were on the ballot because I trusted your credibility and because I expected that you would base your decisions on facts and science. To sign this bill as written ignores established scientific standards while endangering the health of our children.”

“The legislative process for this bill failed to include a meaningful chance for input by many of us District residents from impacted communities of color,” said Claudia Barragan, executive member of the DC Language Access Coalition and DC Grassroots Planning Coalition. “As a result the bill fails to serve the needs of parents and children who are some of the most vulnerable to lead, especially those with limited English or limited proficiency. Mayor, we ask that you veto this bill and work with the Council to develop a bill that is truly responsive to the needs of District children.”  

“Veto this Act, Mayor Bowser,” said Paul Schwartz, Campaign for Lead Free Water, “as it fails to protect our kids and will leave them exposed to chronic, acute and sporadic release of lead from school drinking water. We can and must do better.”

The Campaign and DC parents are urging Mayor Bowser to veto the Act and work closely with the Council to develop and pass a law that protects District children to the greatest extent possible, consistent with current scientific understanding and available technologies. 

KEY POINTS:

  • There is no safe level of lead in water. 
  • The Act makes it acceptable for drinking water sources in public schools, charter schools, recreation centers, and daycares to dispense water containing up to 5 ppb lead at the time of testing. Because filters are being installed upstream of lead sources rather than at the end of the tap, the Act perpetuates the potential for both low-level and chronic as well as acute and sporadic exposures to lead in school drinking water.  
  • For children, regularly consuming water with lead concentrations between 1 ppb and 5 ppb can cause serious health harm ranging from attention deficits and lowered academic achievement, to problems affecting cardiovascular, immune, and endocrine systems.
  • Current filtering technology is capable of consistently achieving lead-in-water concentrations of 1 ppb or lower when filters are installed properly at the point of use, and maintained and replaced according to manufacturer specifications.
  • Research on bottled water by Virginia Tech suggests that the requirements in the bill are not more protective than bottled water.
  • The requirements in the bill perpetuate environmental injustice by making it likely that children from families with lower incomes or difficulty accessing the internet for information will be less protected from lead at school tap water. 

BACKGROUND LITERATURE: 

Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention 

With No Amount of Lead Exposure Safe for Children, American Academy of Pediatrics Calls For Stricter Regulations

District Government Adopts New Lead Testing Policy

DC Code sec. 38-825.01(a)(1)(E) (setting forth the current minimalistic requirements for lead testing and remediation)

Campaign for Lead Free Water’s “Summary of late weakening changes to the DC Council’s Childhood Lead Exposure Prevention Amendment Act of 2017