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Lead in D.C.'s tap water -- another Bush-era legacy?

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), apparently, has spent a good portion of the 2000s pumping its customers full of lead -- and others, it seems, spent an equally good portion of the decade trying to cover that inconvenient truth up.

In 2003, lead concentrations in Washington’s drinking water reached historically high levels. In an effort to assuage residents’ fears, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hastily performed an analysis and deemed the water to be safe. This week, though, an investigation by the House Science and Technology Subcommittee revealed that in the analysis, the CDC ignored data that, according to The Post's Carol D. Leonning, “showed clear harm to children from the water.” Moreover, Leonning continues, “CDC authors knew the data was flawed.” And, finally, Mary Jean Brown, the senior author of the CDC analysis, admitted to congressional investigators that she “didn’t have a lot of confidence” in the 2004 data but had agreed to release the report anyway because of federal pressure.

But the most outrageous aspect to the drinking-water crisis is that, under George W. Bush’s CDC, such contamination -- and ensuing subterfuge -- was practically inevitable. In the summer of 2002, just weeks before the CDC Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention convened to discuss more stringent federal standards for lead poisoning, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson removed committee researchers and replaced them with a fistful of experts more likely to treat the lead industry with kid gloves. What’s more, the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that two of Thompson’s ringers had financial ties to the lead industry, including one who had previously provided expert testimony for Sherwin-Williams paint in a lead poisoning case. The stricter lead guidelines never came to pass.

A lesson Americans must learn as they continue to recover from the Bush years: At all levels of government, oversight of basic necessities such as safe and clean drinking water must be conducted by independent and non-politicized individuals and organizations. Moreover, this oversight needs to be performed vigilantly and regularly; the safety of drinking water should be addressed by a scrambled, ad hoc P.R. campaign that masquerades as solid science. Such laxity can only save a utility’s image temporarily -- and imperil the public it serves.

By vanden Heuvel  | May 21, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  vanden Heuvel  | Tags:  vanden Heuvel  
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Lead is misspelled (led) in the headline to your blog.

Posted by: maryellen1 | May 21, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

"the safety of drinking water should be addressed by a scrambled, ad hoc P.R. campaign that masquerades as solid science"

You mean it SHOULDN'T right?

Sheesh - I love Katrina, but shouldn't someone proofread this stuff?

Posted by: sambam | May 21, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

When will liberals like Katrina Vanden Heuvel stop treating former President George W. Bush as their favorite scapegoat? Seriously, the Bush-bashing is beyond ridiculous.

Lead in DC drinking water is a serious problem, but blaming the Bush administration for something which is the responsibility of the District government and WASA is a stretch.

By the way, the Union of Concerned Scientists is anything but an objective, neutral organization. It's an activist group with a left-wing agenda. However, the Post conveniently omits ideological identification of left-wing groups. Only conservative groups are subject to being described ideologically.

Posted by: austinrl | May 22, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

Bush Derangement Syndrome seems to be a permanent condition.

I'm surprised the Lord High Obama hasn't fixed this yet. I guess he's too busy sniveling and groveling at the feet of foreign dictators to worry about the lead level in DC water.

I'll bet his kids don't even drink the stuff.

Posted by: battleground51 | May 22, 2010 5:35 AM | Report abuse

It's appalling that the safety of our drinking water, the food we eat and the air we breath is always secondary to the profits companies can make by ignoring inconvenient facts.

It is even more appalling that the government that we all pay for, the government that preaches about keeping us safe from terrorists to justify separating us from our rights and our tax dollars, has no problem allowing corporate terrorist poison with impunity in every American city.

And, it's simply disgusting that once the scam is exposed, the payoffs revealed, the toll calculated, that no one GOES TO PRISON, which is where the federal employee, the politicians that pressured them and the corporate CEO's that benefited from the lies should end up.

We can name the prison SIGMAS- Sick, Incredibly Greedy Material A-hole Stockade, locate it on an island and keep them busy with lead-tainted water served on a towel 23 hours a day.

Posted by: bryangalt1 | May 22, 2010 6:35 AM | Report abuse

Why isn't Cass Sunstein protecting me from these crazy conspiracy theories?

Posted by: happyacres | May 22, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Vanden Heuvel proves conclusively and redundantly that the lead in D.C.'s tap water is just another of a mix of toxic ingredients in the Kapital Koolaid. Bottoms up, Katy!

Posted by: elgropo1 | May 22, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Amen, austinr1. Sorry, is "amen" allowed?

Blaming everything wrong in this world on Bush appears to be easier than taking responsibility and correcting problems. I was under the impression that CDC is nonpartisan. Vanden Heuvel is, as usual, very selective in her "fact" sources.

Posted by: bethg1841 | May 22, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Can I play this game too? Look, my dog just pooped on the carpet. Since she had a rough time in 2008 it has to be Bush's fault!!!!!

Katrina presented no evidence that CDC was under political pressure and the motivations of the leadership. Until such evidence pops up, give it a rest!

Posted by: bbface21 | May 22, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

"In 2003, lead concentrations in Washington’s drinking water reached historically high levels."

If you are *reporting* this, you are about 7 years too late (overdue).

What *is* the point of this column?

If this is a call for more rigorous testing of water supplies to insure public safety, why not call for a multimillion dollar reallocation of stimulus dollars to test every water supply in the country and not focus on just one city?

Posted by: onehanded | May 22, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the "lesson," Katrina.

Posted by: cynicalidealist | May 22, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

President Bush?

Don't be silly. The problem goes back much further than that.

What did President Lincoln do?

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 22, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Sheesh. Another Bush ate my homework piece.

Posted by: rheinstein | May 23, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Guess all you bush lovers didn't read the part where the commissioners were replaced by folks from the lead industry and that the author of the report said it was flawed and released under pressure. But reading includes thinking and you sadly lack that.

Posted by: mikel7 | May 23, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Considering hte lead buildup in the DC water system was due to poor maintenance on WASA's part and lead pipes that are over 100 years old, exactly how does the Post think they can lay this at the feet of Bush? The level of lead in the water doesn't have anything to do with "the lead industry" (insert conspiratorial music here) and everything to do with poorly maintained, antique lead pipes that allow lead to leech into the water if they aren't cleared of corrosive elements every few years.

That's a heck of a reach, Heuvel. Heads should roll for the faulty report, but suggesting that the lead is there because Bush appointed business friendly regulators is nonsensical on its face. The lead is there because WASA routinely failed, for the better part of a century, to properly maintain their pipes.

Posted by: nashbridges | May 23, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Did the report mention the fact that WASA can only account for 40% of the water they produce? I'm sure all the problems associated with the water system are Bush's fault. And how many years has the district had a Democrat mayor? Yet none of them did a study and I'm sure this problem is more than ten years old.

Posted by: jcgillen | May 23, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Well, you've uncovered another one of our diabolical schemes. Unless and until you discover our efforts to poison the Iowa corn crop, genetically deform generation Z, and render the Northwestern USA a barren desert, we will remain ahead of you pesky liberals. I shall now twirl my mustache and repair to my laboratory. Sheesh.

Posted by: NNevada | May 24, 2010 2:19 AM | Report abuse

Katrina Vanden Heuvel relies on partisan Democratic Party sources for her condemnation of Tommy Thompson's nominees. "Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson removed committee researchers and replaced them with a fistful of experts more likely to treat the lead industry with kid gloves."

Ms. Vanden Heuvel's link goes to a page belonging to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a special interest group:

The UCS page is strident left-wing rhetoric. Its own footnote leads to the following link:

This is a dead link at the House page for Rep. Ed Markey, a partisan Democrat from the People's Republic of Massachusetts. The next footnote in the UCS manifesto goes here:

Which is yet another dead link at CDC. Dig long enough, and you'll find the following in the footnotes of the UCS manifesto: "Despite their industry connections, a standard government vetting of Drs. Banner and Thompson found no financial conflict of interest that would legally prohibit them from participating in the new advisory committee."

The key words here are "standard government vetting" and "no financial conflict of interest." Furthermore, these two experts that Ms. Vanden Heuvel and the CDC are so indignant about had "industry connections" via expertise on lead paint, not lead in drinking water.

So Ms. Vanden Heuvel has relied on a partisan rant that in turn relies on dead links and a partisan House Democrat. She's blurred an important distinction about the allegedly damning "industry connections" of these experts, in her pursuit of this agenda.

Meanwhile, we have to dig and dig to find out that these two experts had no conflict of interest: precisely the opposite of Ms. Vanden Heuvel's thesis. Next, she'll try to tell us that she served in Vietnam with Richard Blumenthal.

And we are supposed to believe that the Washington Post doesn't have any liberal bias. Excuse me for just a moment while I point at Ms. Vanden Heuvel and laugh out loud.

Posted by: JimDavisNewsmax | May 24, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure that you advocate the same strict standards for "scientific" global warming- uh, I mean "global climate change" garbage science.

Posted by: RationalThought2 | May 24, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

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