U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/08/2004
Statement of Andy Bressler
Resident, District of Columbia
Oversight of Drinking Water in D.C.

Chairman Crapo, Ranking Member Graham, Members of the Committee, I want to thank you for holding this important hearing.

I would like to tell you about my family. My name is Andy Bressler. My wife Shellie and I have lived on Capitol Hill for the past seven years. Some of you may recognize our sons Adam and Casey. Back in February, our family was profiled in the Washington Post. I ask that the article be included in the record. You may have also seen them in the halls of these buildings when they come to visit and to have lunch with their Mommy who works in the Hart Building.

Three years ago, we had the great fortune of adding twin boys to our household. Despite some of the obstacles urban living entails, we have enjoyed living in the city and have looked forward to being able to enjoy everything that city life offers. Little did we know that we were exposing our children to potential health hazards through lead-poisoned drinking water.

Imagine our shock a little over a year ago to hear from our pediatrician that our healthy, thriving recently turned two year olds had tested over the CDC recommended level for lead. We immediately contacted the DC Department of Health’s Office of Lead and requested an inspection of our home. A test was conducted on our 125 year old house it was determined there was no lead paint exposure on the interior, but, there was a limited area of lead paint on an exterior door. We then proceeded to have that door replaced. When we inquired about the possibility of lead in our water, the inspector reassured us that that DC water was fine and safe to drink, and that could not be the source of the lead problem.

Months later, my wife and I took the boys in for their three-year checkup. The next afternoon, my wife received a call from the doctor’s office to say that once again the boys lead levels had not declined, and in fact had risen. Casey tested at 14; Adam tested at 12 (both at levels above the 10 mg threshold). In knowing we had done work to remediate the problem months early, the doctor asked if the boys drink water. When we replied that we use it to water down their juice and to cook with, he advised us to stay away from unfiltered tap water and to solely use bottled water for their cups and in preparing their meals.

The next day, we contacted the DC Lead Hotline at WASA to request a water test for our home – this was in mid-January 2004. Through the Moms on the Hill group, we had learned that there had been some concern about lead in DC water, and that there had been some testing going back 6 months or more. A few days later, the Washington Post broke the story about the extreme lead levels found in DC water. We waited over two weeks for someone from WASA to return our multiple phone messages. We finally had our water tested by WASA, and it does show significant elevated lead levels (24 ppb).

Between our own research and speaking with experts, we have learned that that there is no cure or antidote for our sons’ exposure level. By eliminating the exposure, it would eventually leave their bodies. But, we understand that it will likely take years before the lead is out of their system. We have taken all possible steps to rid our house of the lead, and little did we know that every time we gave our children something to drink, we were exposing them once again to the lead.

Another uncertainty is the long-term effects these levels of exposure will have on our children. Experts have testified that at their level of exposure, minimally they will lose precious IQ points. Other problems could include learning difficulties, attention disorders, and/or general behavior problems. These symptoms would not present themselves until years later once they are in elementary and middle school.

As parents of twins, we have been cautioned not to compare developmental milestones with other children their age. We were told that our children would reach these steps at their own pace. As a part of human nature, it is very difficult not to compare and wonder. At this time, our greatest concern that each time one of them has difficulty in grasping a subject matter in school or an unexplained emotional outburst, we will question if it is long-term effect of being exposed to leaden water up until their third birthday.

Some of the issues that we would like to see addressed by Congress, EPA, WASA, and the City:

-- Let’s move quickly to a solution – if it means replacing the lead pipes, then let’s get on with it!

-- We need much better oversight from both Congress and the EPA – It is obvious that there have been failures over the last several years, as both the EPA, WASA, and the WASA board have failed the public by not coming forward sooner, and moving towards a solution sooner.

-- We are also disappointed that the “Task force” working on this issue is not open to the public, nor does it have representation from citizens affected by this severe problem.

-- There needs to be real accountability for the lack of leadership and management oversight at WASA, EPA, and especially the Board of WASA, who were appointed to represent the public.

-- From what we understand, this is not a new issue, as DC’s water had a lead problem back in the late 1980’s, and early 1990’s. At that time, WASA undertook steps and developed a plan to fix the lead pipe problem. However, it appears that since that time WASA and its Board abandoned those efforts, and we would very much like to understand why they did not follow through on those plans.

-- We also are concerned about the continually changing advice that we have received from WASA regarding how to reduce the lead levels in our water (such as how long to run the water – 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes??). In addition, WASA’s hotline has given us conflicting information regarding whether the service line leading to our house is lead or not (it appears as though it is).

-- Scientists have stated incidences leaching are higher in warmer weather. Now that summer is approaching, what can be done in the immediate future to help alleviate the high lead exposure levels in the water.

-- Finally, we understand there is a plan to begin replacing lead service lines, and we would like to have a better understanding and guidance as to how WASA is prioritizing these replacements.

Thank you for holding this hearing, and we would be pleased to speak with you or your staff regarding any of these issues, or our experiences with the DC government and WASA.

Thank you.