Contaminated water in D.C. homes

George Hawkins
General Manager, D.C. Water
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 2:30 PM

The water in almost 15,000 D.C. homes that received repairs during a massive effort to remove lead pipes may still be contaminated by dangerous levels of the metal, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

George Hawkins, general manager of D.C. Water, was online Thursday, Dec. 2, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the report.

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George Hawkins: Hi, George Hawkins here, GM of DC Water to answer your questions. We want folks to know we have a press release and additional information on our website at dcwater.com.

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washingtonpost.com: D.C. Water

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do the surrounding counties have the same problems, or is this limited to the District proper?

George Hawkins: Lead service lines may existing in systems in the counties - and even in cases when that is not true - there may be sources of lead in household pipes, fixtures or solder. I would suggest contacting Fairfax Water or WSSC or the purveyor directly to determine whether lead service lines are in use. Typically, suburbs have infrastructure that is more modern than the older cities, and thus are less likely to have lead service lines or fixtures.

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Georgetown,D.C.: Where do we go to get our water independently tested?

I haven't drunk water from the tap since this mess first started but instead have been filtering it but I remain concerned about it in ice cubes and cooking, and overall remain amazed that such third world conditions are allowed to continue in the nation's capital. Potable water is not that much to ask for in this day and age.

George Hawkins:

There are a number of state-certified independent labs in the Washington metropolitan area, including:

AMA Analytical Services, Inc. Lanham, MD 301-459-2640;

Anabell Environmental, Inc. Gaithersburg, MD 301-548-9425; Chesapeake Analytical Laboratory, Inc. Waldorf, MD 301-932-4775; WSSC, LSG Silver Spring, MD 301-206-7580. If you are a DC Water customer, we conduct water testing through the Aqueduct, which is a third party certified laborabory. You can reach out to our customer service operation at 354-3600.

As far as the issue of lead in water, we absolutely want to deliver clean and safe drinking water. The challenge in many older cities is that for decades we have not been updating antiquated infrastructure. We have recently tripled our capital replacement budget in large measure to make fundamental improvements, but we have quite a bit of catching up to do.

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Burke, Va.: Is lead ever eliminated from one's body over time?

George Hawkins: Unfortunately, I am not certain enough of the health issues pertaining to lead over time that I would defer this question to your pediatrian of other physician. This is a topic that medical doctors are well versed in, so you should be able to get good advice on questions like this fairly quickly. We view lead-in-water as a significant issue and are working hard to reduce and maybe even eliminate lead-in-water as a potential source.

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Washington, D.C.: So what should people do?

George Hawkins: I would suggest the following:

1. Determine if you any reason to be concerned about lead-in-water, either due to a vulnerable population (particularly children and pregnant women) or if there is a likelihood there may be a lead source.

2. If you concerns based on #1, call us at 202-354-3600 and we can determine additional information about whether you have a partial lead service line, full line, or other relevant information we may have. We can then deliver to your home a free lead test kit - and we can determine whether levels constitute a risk.

3. We can work with you, or you with a your plumber, to identify sources of lead that may be in your home. We will take care of issues in the public domain, and can heop if there are sources on the private side. Changing fixtures, removing a private side lead line, removing galvanized pipe -- all may be relevant steps to reduce.

4. If there are concerns in the meantime, use a relatively inexpensive filter that is certified to eliminate lead. Again, we can help you identify appropriate products.

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NW D.C.: Who's responsible for this?

George Hawkins: Good question that has many answers.

First, responsibility dates back many, many years when lead water service lines were being installed. This is long before the time of most of here now, but is the original source of much of the risk.

Second, the Aqueduct made a change to water disinfection in 2000 that caused the lead to leach into the water in the first place. The change was made before this trend was known - but the original cause of the early 2000 spike was the disinfection change.

Third, DC Water needed to be more proactive in informing the public about the source of the risk and appropriate steps to take. We are very aggressive on that score today.

Fourth, USEPA needs to take responsibility for the requirement in their regulatory program that lead services line MUST be replaced, even if the replacement is partial because the private owner does not agree to remove their portion.

Fifth, I think CDC could have move more speedily on this research - although as I have noted before, we have been acting on the results for several years already.

We stand ready to do our part to help our customers feel confident in the water we provide.

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Mount Pleasant, D.C.: In 2004, my lead tested at 99 ppb. However, after the chloramine stopped, it was tested and it was less than 10 ppb. Then, the lead line, up to the front of my yard was replaced.

I never had the rest of the line replaced, since the subsequent test was less than 10 ppb, and the cost was $3,000. Interior plumbing is copper.

As far as the water travels from source to tap, I don't see how a 15 foot pipe span at this point can be leaching so much lead as to be dangerous. Is it necessary?

George Hawkins: Good question. Your experience is representative of what has happened in many homes. The chloramine is actually still used - the change was to add orthophosphate to provide a "lining" on the inside of the pipes to reduce any lead leaching into the water. This treatment change, initiated in 2004, has been very successful.

If your testing is coming back under 10 ppb, and you have copper piping in your home, then you are most likely safe. Always good to keep a periodic eye on the latest monitoring results - but the orthophosphate is doing its job to limit dramatically any lead leaching from the 15 feet of private service line between the public side and the copper in you house.

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George Hawkins: Goodbye and thank you for the questions. I encourage our customers to visit dcwater.com - there is a significant amount of information and many ways we can work together to reduce and hopefully eliminate lead in water as a threat.

George Hawkins

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washingtonpost.com: D.C. Water

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