The Corner Forum
Saturday, Feb. 7, 2004
Issue #61

Tests of Water Show High Levels of Lead

By Lisa Olson, 1214 E St. NE

There has been a lot of publicity about lead in D.C. water due to the Jan. 31 Washington Post article.

Many in our area were recruited to participate in a voluntary water testing program for lead back last summer/fall.

I had my water tested in September with results of 220 ppb (parts per billion) and 180 ppb, for a first and second draw of water, respectively, from my faucet after sitting overnight (which is when lead tends to build in the pipes). These numbers are quite high: the EPA requires corrective action when the water level is 15 ppb or more.

Of course, the Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) and others suggest that you run your water for several minutes first thing in the morning before drinking it. Whenever the water sits for six hours or more, you should run it for several minutes before drinking it.

I hope this motivates you to get a filter for your water or to use bottled water. In addition, I have sent an email to a D.C. WASA representative to ask them if WASA plans to provide filtration to houses. I'll let you know the answer.

There is much information out there on this. It is probably wise to first request a free test from WASA, or some other independent agency if you choose, for $15 to $30 (you must make sure they are "EPA approved"), and also check with WASA to see if your water main is lead. They have access to this information. To contact WASA, call its lead hotline at 787-2732 or e-mail its Water Quality Program 2003 at

This will provide you a better sense of what you have and how to handle it. The next thing to do is get a filtration system. Brita water filters are NSF certified to reduce lead (Editor's note: according to the NSF Web site, to be certified to reduce lead, products must be able to take water containing 150 ppb of lead and remove enough lead to leave at most 10 ppb of lead in the water. NSF International is an organization that tests and certifies water-treatment products.) There are also under-the-counter water filtration systems.

If you have children up to age 6, you can have their lead levels tested for free at D.C.'s Office of Lead Poisoning located at 51 N St. NE, 3rd floor (535-2195). They will do tests between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., with the hour of noon to 1 p.m. off for lunch. The results should be back in a week and a half.

Water is a necessary commodity and one that must meet strict standards, which are not being met. If WASA cannot effectively remove the lead from the water supply in total, they must provide provisions for the consumer to do so in their home, i.e. filtration systems. I feel very strongly about this. I do hope WASA steps up to the plate to provide appropriate filtration to its customers on a house-by-house basis if necessary. §