Scrutiny into the D.C. water agency is welcome.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

FIRST, THERE was a new study suggesting risk to young children in the District because of the crisis several years ago of elevated levels of lead in city drinking water. Then there was conflicting testimony at a recent public hearing on whether tap water is safe to drink. Now it seems that research used to assure residents about the water might have been improperly influenced. D.C. residents understandably may be confused about the quality of their drinking water; it's clear that they can't rely on the city's water authority for answers.

The revelations of the past month underscore the need for independent testing of D.C. drinking water and further examination of the actions of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority in dealing with the lead crisis from 2001 to 2004. Particularly troubling is a recent report in the Environmental Science & Technology Journal that the co-author of a 2007 study concerning the impact of lead-contaminated water on the public's health failed to fully disclose the terms of his relationship with WASA. Reporter Rebecca Renner found that Tee Guidotti was a paid consultant for WASA and that his contract apparently required the utility to approve any research before publication. Moreover, according to a later report by The Post's Carol D. Leonnig, the central conclusion of the paper -- that there was "no identifiable public health impact" from the high concentrations of lead -- was published in error; experts had rejected it as "scientifically dubious," and it was supposed to be deleted. The scientific journal that published the paper is reviewing the matter.

And so yet again, WASA, which has replaced thousands of lead service lines and dramatically lowered lead levels, is, nonetheless seen as not leveling with the public. That's why the proposal, first pushed nearly a year ago by D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), for rigorous, independent testing of city water has such merit. The D.C. Department of the Environment is working with all the stakeholders to come up with a comprehensive, peer-reviewed testing plan and to identify funding for it. Mr. Graham and council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) also are right to press the city's inspector general to look into WASA's actions.


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