A shocking report by the House investigative subcommittee has found the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local D.C. government not only failed to adequately warn residents of high levels of lead in the District of Columbia drinking water, when the lead contamination became known they lied to alleviate resident’s fears about the lead and its potential health effects.
In 2000, a change in the disinfectant used to purify the water caused increased corrosion of the city’s drinking water system, allowing higher levels of lead to leech into the water. The District of Columbia’s Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) notified the public in 2003 of meetings to “discuss and solicit public comments on WASA’s Safe Drinking Water Act projects,” but did not clearly notify the public of the lead dangers. WASA’s negligence exposed thousands of D.C. residents and their children to harmful levels of lead from the city’s water they were drinking and using for food and infant formulas, for a period of two years.
The Washington Post exposed the problem in a January 31, 2004 article. This is how the public found out that water in two-thirds of D.C. homes tested had levels of lead above federal limits. The media revealed that WASA and the CDC knew of the dangers since 2002 and did nothing to protect the public.
Lead can cause serious health problems, children and unborn babies are especially at risk. In fact, there have been several seven figure settlements in lawsuits where lead paint in apartments and homes in New York allegedly caused ADHD and other developmental issues in young children who were exposed to the substance, as reported by banvillelaw.com.
The CDC investigated the lead contamination of the city’s water system and published the March 30, 2004 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Dispatch (MMWR), assuring the public there was no reason to be concerned. The CDC analyzed data and stated in this report that the elevated levels of lead in the water had not caused increased levels of lead in the blood of the residents.
The Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science and Technology opened an investigation in response to allegations surrounding the CDC’s March 30, 2004 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Dispatch (MMWR), publishing its own report titled A Public Health Tragedy: How Flawed CDC Data and Faulty Assumptions Endangered Children’s Health in the Nation’s Capital.
The Subcommittee reviewed available records and conducted dozens of interviews with former and current CDC officials, the Public Health Service (PHS) and the District of Columbia.
Difficulty in obtaining relevant records from the CDC and District of Columbia hampered the Subcommittee’s attempt to investigate the DC lead in water crisis, with many key records never located. In instances where the Subcommittee succeeded in obtaining the records from non-CDC sources, they found the records completely contradicted allegations made by CDC officials.
The findings of the investigation revealed the CDC based the MMWR report on fundamentally flawed and incomplete data. The CDC also neglected to include key data. In a rush to calm the panic of residents, they threw together a shoddy report that lulled the public into a false sense of safety. When the CDC did discover adverse health effects, they refused to publish it. Still today, the CDC refuses to withdraw the MMWR and inform the public of its faulty analysis.
The Washington Post said in an article today that internal CDC research shows 9,100 D.C. homes today may have a higher risk of lead poisoning due to the 2004 efforts to fix the lead problem.
“To now learn that the Centers for Disease Control not only got it wrong but may have intentionally misled District residents and our water agency is the ultimate betrayal of the public trust,” D.C. Council member Jim Graham told The Washington Post.
The Legal Examiner and our Affiliate Network strive to be the place you look to for news, context, and more, wherever your life intersects with the law.