U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/08/2004
Statement of Senator John Warner
Oversight of Drinking Water in D.C.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for conducting this important hearing this morning. It is an issue that directly impacts my constituents in Arlington County and the City of Falls Church because they are the primary customers of the Washington Aqueduct system along with the District of Columbia.

The facts of this situation, as they have unfolded over the past two months are very disturbing. It is even more disturbing, however, that we and the public became aware of this ongoing problem only after reports in the Washington Post.

Every one of the government officials sitting before us on the first panel -- the EPA, the Corps, and the Water and Sewer Authority -- knew that testing showed lead levels in the drinking water were exceeding the federal action levels. No one took action. No one properly notified the public. And, it seems that you are still finger pointing at each other as to who's to blame.

We must determine if a better treatment regime will reduce the leaching of lead from service lines. The Water and Sewer Authority must take immediate steps to provide filters to residents who are served by the over 37,000 service lines that are "undetermined". Those are residents in a category where WASA does not know if they have lead service lines. Yet, water sampling of some of these residences with "undetermined" service lines reveal lead contamination above the 15 ppb action level. All of these residences must be provided with water filters.

If WASA does not provide filters for those with "undetermined" service lines, EPA must exercise its emergency authority to ensure that this occurs because of the imminent public health threat. I also call on EPA to examine the need to set an enforceable maximum contaminant level (MCL) for lead in drinking water instead of the current 15 parts per billion action level. Such an approach may be the only recourse to protect public health and ensure that all necessary steps are taken to reduce lead contamination in drinking water. In this situation, it does not appear that the additional regulatory requirements that should have been implemented when sampling showed high lead levels were enforced by either EPA or WASA.

The first order of business that must be taken by the responsible agencies appearing before us today is restoring the public trust. You've got a long way to go. It can start with your commitment to provide water filters to all persons served by "undetermined" service lines. You must also look to ways to financing the full replacement of lead service lines all the way up to the home, not just that portion of the lead service line that is owned by WASA.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you on the specific challenges facing this region. I also share your concerns that this could be a public health problem confronting any city with lead service lines.