U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/07/2004
 
Statement of Senator Jeffords
Oversight of D.C. Drinking Water

I would like to start by thanking Senator Crapo and Chairman Inhofe for granting the minority's request to hold this hearing. The residents of Washington, D.C. deserve to get answers from federal and local officials on why there is lead in DC water and why residents were not notified. Safe drinking water is a right, not a privilege.

This Committee has oversight responsibilities for the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Each of us in the Senate has a special oversight responsibility for the District and its residents. I’ve lived in Washington for a long time, and I take this responsibility seriously.

Many of us live in Washington. We certainly all work in Washington. Our family, friends, children and grandchildren drink the tap water here daily.

Many of us have switched to bottled water. I am disturbed that because bottled water is not regulated in the same manner that tap water is, we cannot even find out if our bottled water is safe.

Yesterday Senator Crapo and I met with a group of Washington parents. Their outrage and sadness at the effect on their children was unanimous. Their charge to us was: Fix this situation and don’t let it happen again. I am committed to doing everything in our power to solve this problem.

My overriding question today for our witnesses is -- How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the futures of children living in our nation’s capital are threatened every day by the water in their faucets and bathtubs? How did we get to the point where water tests revealed startlingly high lead levels, but yet that information was never provided to residents who unnecessarily exposed themselves, their unborn children, and their children to lead-contaminated water?

How did we get to the point where it takes Congressional hearings and newspaper exposés to get action? How did we get to the point where two years after the fact, the EPA announces that WASA did not comply with the requirements of the Lead and Copper Rule?

How did we get to the point where research from over a year ago showing that lead exposure at levels below the current standard of 10 parts-per-billion have an adverse effect on children’s intelligence levels, and yet the Federal government has not responded?

Lead is a serious health threat to children and pregnant women. It is particularly dangerous for children, who retain about 68% of the lead that enters their bodies while adults retain about 1%. Children exposed to lead experience low birth weight, growth retardation, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and other effects. It is also particularly harmful during pregnancy.

I have already mentioned our meeting yesterday with a group of D.C. parents, and I want to take this chance to share a few more thoughts from some other concerned parents. I ask unanimous consent that a letter and petition from PureWater DC, an internet based site for parents concerned about the ongoing water issues in D.C. Thirteen-hundred and seventy-seven people signed this petition expressing their concern and the expectation for District officials to act quickly to fix the problem.

I ask unanimous consent that the many letters and emails I have received from D.C. residents be included in the record, and I ask that the record remain open for two weeks to allow more people to provide their views.

I believe it is imperative that during each moment of today’s hearing, we all remember that real parents, children, and babies are being affected by this situation as we speak.

Today’s hearing is just the first step in what I hope is a long list of actions that we can take to help solve D.C’s lead problem and prevent this from occurring elsewhere in the nation.

Today, I requested with my colleagues Senator Graham of Florida and Representatives Dingell and Solis that the General Accounting Office conduct an investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s lead provisions, using Washington, D.C. as a case study.

During the questions for EPA today, I will urge the Agency to immediately initiate nationwide testing to ensure that we do not have an undetected national lead problem.

In the coming days, I will be introducing legislation that will take action to overhaul the current regulatory regime for lead in drinking water.

My bill will modify the Safe Drinking Water Act to improve public communication, to require immediate notification of all homes with elevated lead test results, to require public water systems to provide in-home filters where lead is a problem, to prohibit lead in plumbing fixtures, to require immediate nationwide testing of public water systems, to eliminate lead service lines and lead pipes, and to increase water infrastructure funding.

I have requested a hearing on the childhood lead poisoning in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on which I sit to ensure that the Centers for Disease Control is aggressively addressing childhood lead poisoning.

I was struck by the question posed by one resident – can you actually help fix this problem? I hope to answer that question with a resounding “yes.”

Today is step number one. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.