CDC Reverses D.C. Water-Lead Findings
Updated 7:30 AM EST, Thu, Dec 2, 2010
District residents who live in homes where lead pipes were partially replaced could still be at risk for lead poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said residents should drink bottled water until their homes can be tested.
The conclusion reverses previous findings by the CDC.
In 2004, the agency released a report that said exposure to contaminated drinking water did NOT pose a significant risk to children.
Many experts blasted that study, saying it was based on inaccurate data. In the new report, the CDC acknowledges that between 2000 and 2006 children in homes with lead service lines were at increased risk for lead poisoning.
The CDC also concludes that partially replacing lead pipes does not fix the problem and could actually increase lead levels in the water.
In the new report, the CDC advises people with lead pipes to drink bottled water until their water can be tested.
While it is a big switch for the CDC, many experts are saying “What took you so long?”
DC Water says it has been following other research for quite some time and has already made changes to reduce lead levels. A spokesperson with the utility said they stopped aggressively replacing lead pipes several years ago when experts raised concerns about possible spikes in lead following replacement.
- Lead and Water Info from CDC
- DC Water Lead Info
- About Lead in Drinking Water
- For more than 20 years, CDC has championed children’s health by working together with other federal agencies and through effective programs and policies to prevent childhood lead poisoning. Exposure to lead can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in young children and can also affect the health of adults. Lead can be found in many sources. Lead-based paint and the dust produced as it deteriorates, found mostly in older homes built before 1978, are major contributors of lead exposure in U.S. children. Lead can also be found in some water pipes inside the home or pipes that connect homes to the main water supply pipe. Lead found in tap water usually comes from the decay of old lead-based pipes, fixtures or from leaded solder that connects drinking water pipes.
- Most of CDC’s work related to lead in water has occurred in the District of Columbia (DC), where approximately 23,000 homes have lead-based water service pipes. As part of its lead-in-water testing program, DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) expanded testing to include homes with lead service pipes extending from the water main to the house. By late January 2004, results of the expanded water testing indicated that most of the homes tested had water lead levels that were above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). The action level indicates that utilities must take certain steps to correct the problem and notify citizens of the situation. On February 16, DC Department of Health (DCDOH) requested CDC’s help in reviewing health effects of elevated lead levels in residential tap water.
- An analysis of available blood lead surveillance data was published in an April 2004 edition of Morbidity Mortality Weekly Review (MMWR). CDC reported that the percentage of test results >10 µg/dL, CDC’s blood lead level of concern, as well as the percentage of test results >5 µg/dL were higher at addresses with lead service pipes than at addresses without lead service pipes.
- However, a large number of test results from blood samples collected from DC-area children in 2003 were unavailable and not included in the analysis published in the 2004 MMWR. In 2009, CDC acquired all known 2003 test results and completed a reanalysis of blood lead levels that involved over 23,000 blood lead tests to determine if the addition of the missing test results changed the previously reported results. This included 9,765 tests that were used in the original analysis, and 1,753 tests reported in surveillance data after the MMWR was published. An additional 12,168 tests that had not been included in the surveillance files were also part of the reanalysis. The addition of the missing test data led to an overall decrease in the percent of children with elevated blood lead levels ≥ 5 µg/dL and ≥ 10 µg/dL in 2003, regardless of the type of service line supplying water to the home. These results support CDC’s original conclusions that the percentage of test results >10 µg/dL, as well as the percentage of test results >5 µg/dL were higher at addresses with lead service pipes than at addresses without lead service pipes. CDC reiterates a key message from the 2004 MMWR: No safe blood level has been identified and all sources of lead exposure for children should be controlled or eliminated. Lead concentrations in drinking water should be below the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 parts per billion.
Information for Washington, D.C. Residents
- NEW! Notice to Readers: Limitations Inherent to a Cross-Sectional Assessment of Blood Lead Levels Among Persons Living in Homes with High Levels of Lead in Drinking Water Reported in MMWR Weekly, June 25, 2010/ 50 (24); 751
- Notice to Readers: Examining the Effect of Previously Missing Blood Lead Surveillance Data on Results Reported in MMWR Weekly, May 21, 2010 / 59(19);592
- Examining the Effect of Previously Missing Blood Lead Level (BPb) Surveillance Data on Results Reported in the MMWR (April, 2, 2004/53(12):268-270)
- Blood Lead Levels in Residents of Homes with Elevated Lead in Tap Water – District of Columbia, Stokes L, Onwuche NC, Thomas P, et al., 2004; MMWR Weekly, April 2, 2004, 53(12); 268-270
Interested in lead testing?
To determine if you have a lead service line and to request lead testing, contact Customer Service at (202) 354-3600.
Tips for Minimizing Lead in Drinking Water
District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority’s (DC Water) mission is to provide quality water to each of its customers. DC Water continues to conduct its lead pipe replacement program and offers the opportunity for customers to replace private lead service lines. Service lines are the pipes that bring water from the main in the street to your house. When water is not used for several hours and stands in the pipes, lead can enter drinking water from lead-based plumbing, fixtures and service lines. Following these tips can help minimize lead in drinking water.
You may also download these tips on reducing lead exposure (PDF 1.0 mb) .
Replace Lead Service Lines
Replace lead service pipes with copper service pipes.
Removal of the entire lead service line is the most effective way of reducing lead. In most cases, DC Water will replace the public service line if you decide to replace the private portion. To find out more about full lead service line replacements, contact our Customer Service department at 202-354-3600.
Replace Galvanized Household Plumbing
Residents that have or had lead service lines connected to in-house galvanized pipes, can potentially have lead released in tap water from these corroded pipes.
Replace old household galvanized plumbing.
If pipe replacement is not an option, NSF certified filters, at the tap or filtration pitchers, are available to remove lead.
Install Lead-free Plumbing Fixtures
Lead-free fixtures are much lower in lead than “standard” fixtures.
Look for “lead-free” labels when purchasing new plumbing fixtures.
Run the Cold Water Tap when it has Not Been Used for Several Hours
When the water has not been used for several hours, run the cold tap for two minutes before using for drinking and cooking.
Lead and other metals can dissolve in water when it stands in pipes for long periods of time.
Clean and Replace Faucet Strainers
Routinely remove faucet aerators and clean strainers of all debris.
Metals and other sediment can build up in the strainer.
Drain Your Hot Water Heater Annually
Draining the hot water heater removes any unnecessary sediment and metals that can accumulate over time.
This also prevents low water pressure and clogging of hot water pipes.
Flush Your Faucets if You Replace Your Pipes or Fixtures
After replacing plumbing fixtures or pipes, run the cold water taps for several minutes before each use for several days.
Pipe replacements and construction can cause particles from pipe walls to enter the water.
Use Only Cold Water for Cooking and Drinking
Hot water can contain higher concentrations of metals and solids that build up in the hot water heater over time.
Use Filtered Tap Water if you are Pregnant or have Young Children
If you have lead service lines and you are pregnant and/or have children under the age of six, you should drink filtered tap water and use filtered tap water to prepare infant formula or concentrated juices.
What can you find in this section?
- Lead Service Replacement Program
Information, diagram, and policy guidelines for DC Water’s lead service replacement program.
- Lead FAQs (PDF 138 kb)
Frequently asked questions regarding lead replacement issues.
- Planned Service Replacements
A list of blocks in D.C. scheduled for replacement of lead service lines in 2010.
- Private-Side Lead Service Line Replacements
Information on financial assistance for replacing lead service lines on private property
- Publications and Federal Information
Brochures, letters, and reports from DC Water containing information about lead, as well as links to federal information.