Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing today. I share the concerns of the families here today, as well as everyone who lives in DC, about the condition of the water supply in our nation’s capital and throughout the United States. We have all observed the recent finger pointing of the relevant agencies, but today is about sorting through the rhetoric, getting some answers, and finding some real solutions for DC residents. The dangerous effects of lead are well documented. Major government agencies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agree that lead in drinking water can cause a variety of adverse health effects, particularly dangerous for children under 6.
Despite this risk, the responsible agencies failed to inform the public about the lead problem in a timely or appropriate manner. The District of Columbia’s Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) and the EPA first became aware of the lead problem in 2002. WASA, however, failed to notify homeowners of the problem until more than a year later, at a public meeting in November 2003. Even when announcing the meeting, WASA officials neglected to tell citizens the gathering would be discuss the lead issue. This long-delayed public education program has essentially failed – failed to provide district residents with timely or thorough information.
Another issue is the role of the EPA in this situation. EPA has a primary oversight role over WASA and is responsible for the lead testing programs. We must ask, is there a problem with the testing standards issued by EPA that delayed this result? Additionally, are the current EPA water composition standards safe for the varying water infrastructure of this nation? Is it possible that these standards need revisiting?
The first panel of this hearing, comprised of EPA and WASA officials, will have an opportunity to address these issues. I look forward to hearing their suggestions for next steps for information gathering, providing that information to the public, and most importantly, a strategy to solve the lead problem.
Today, we will also hear from witnesses who live in the district. I am interested to get their perspectives on how the exchange of information can be improved. What were the mistakes and how are they going to be fixed?
It seems incredible during this day in age, with all the technologies available, that we are having problems communicating. WASA must improve its public communication program. How should this be done? What role will the EPA and the Department of Health play in this process? We need to know what the new strategy will be.
The health and safety of the community is second only to its faith in those in power to provide them with useful and updated information. I want to make sure that we learn from these mistakes and not repeat them during the next phases of fixing the problem.
Thank you again for conducting this hearing. I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses.