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House subcommittee passes bill restricting lead in water fixtures

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By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; 3:19 PM

A House subcommittee passed legislation Wednesday that seeks to eliminate harmful lead exposures from tap water and home plumbing fixtures.

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The legislation would prohibit manufacturers from using all but a tiny fraction of lead in making or selling water faucets and fixtures. Tainted water is estimated to count for up 20 percent of human lead exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. People who ingest significant amounts of lead can suffer from brain damage, hearing damage and developmental delays, with fetuses and young children being the most vulnerable to lifelong problems.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, which determines the lead content of plumbing materials, now allows up to 8 percent of lead content in faucets and fixtures. This proposed legislation, written by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) of the committee, would cut that amount to 0.25 percent. The legislation is expected move to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for further consideration.

"The only safe lead exposure is no exposure, but right now faucets across the country are routinely and legally slipping lead into the water our children drink," Eshoo said. "In the 21st century when we have so many safe alternatives, it's unacceptable to continue to expose children and families to this health hazard."

The legislation comes as a separate House subcommittee is about to release an investigative report finding that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention knowingly played down the health dangers caused by lead spikes in the District's drinking water.

Eshoo based the legislation on a model 2006 California law, which enacted a new "lead free" standard for plumbing. It required manufacturers to phase out potential exposure from materials in California drinking water plumbing by 2010, and many did so ahead statutory compliance deadlines.

"We know the damage lead exposure causes, we know how to prevent it, and we know the cost of doing nothing," Eshoo said "It's time we protect the rest of the country."

Economists estimate the health impact of human lead exposure costs more than $43 billion annually in lost time at work, health-care costs and related expenses.

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