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CDC Report: "Association Between Children’s Blood Lead Levels, Lead Service Lines, And Water Disinfection, Washington, DC, 1998–2006"

Addresses of DC Water Pipe Replacements

A report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the water in almost 15,000 D.C. homes that received repairs during a DC Water & Sewer Authority (WASA) program to remove lead pipes may still be contaminated by dangerous lead levels. The CDC concluded that homeowners who had pipes only partially replaced may have made the problem worse. The CDC also confirmed that children living in the District were exposed to lead poisoning from 2000 to 2006 as an inadvertent result of efforts to disinfect the water supply that caused lead pipes to corrode and leach into the water that flowed through them.

The new CDC report reopens an issue that many residents thought was resolved when the city spent $93 million to replace thousands of service lines. From 2004 to 2008, the District replaced water lines serving 17,600 homes. Homeowners were responsible for the portion of the pipes on their property. In 14,800 of those homes, owners chose not to make any additional repairs

The report marks the first time the CDC has publicly acknowledged that there was measurable health risk from the city's lead crisis and that the primary remedy appears to have been flawed. If those residences are home to small children, pregnant women or anyone with a compromised immune system, the water should be tested.  There is no blood lead level that is considered safe for children. The new CDC report found that children in homes where lead pipes had been partially replaced were three times as likely to have elevated lead levels than those whose homes never had lead pipes. If there are only adults in the house, it's probably still a judgment call, but less health-imperative than if there's small children and pregnant women.
The federal government banned the use of lead pipes almost 25 years ago, and the District embarked on an ambitious plan to replace lead service lines and to encourage homeowners to eradicate lead plumbing from their homes. WASA continues to replace lead service lines if they are connected to a water main that is being replaced or if a customer is replacing the private portion of the line.

WASA may have inadvertently made the problem worse in 2000, when it began to use the chemical chloramine, rather than chlorine, to purify the water supply. Although its use complied with federal requirements to reduce carcinogenic byproducts, many experts think it corroded pipes and caused lead to leach into the water. The new CDC report found that elevated lead levels in children peaked in 2003, a year when chloramine was the only disinfectant used.  (Wash Post, 12/2/1020)