U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/26/2004
 
Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Oversight of Drinking Water in the Distict of Columbia

I would like to thank Chairman Crapo for holding this hearing, like most of my colleagues, when I'm not back in my home state, I stay here in the District of Columbia. And while the lead levels in the drinking water probably won't shorten my life expectancy, I do have grand kids who come to visit and don't want to put them at any added risk.

First I think that it's important to put the risk from lead exposure into perspective. While high blood lead levels are a cause for concern, the blood lead levels of the children in the District of Columbia are far lower than those we experienced nationwide just a generation ago.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has established guidelines for lead exposure, their level of concern for blood lead is 10 micrograms per deciliter. Twenty years ago, the vast majority of children in America would have exceeded that level. A nationwide study conducted by CDC in the early 1980s, 88 percent of the children in the survey exceeded the current CDC level of concern.

From the mid 1920's until the mid 1980's motor gasoline contained an additive, tetraethyl-lead, that improved fuel performance by preventing preignition in the cylinders of the engine. This lead was released as a gas and in the form of a very fine dust. Even today, areas around busy roads and highways may contain elevated levels of lead.

Because of concern over lead in the drinking water the CDC recently conducted a study of residents in the District whose tap water had the highest lead levels, above 300 parts per billion. Not one person had lead levels in their blood above CDC's level of concern.

The current tempest over DC's drinking water raises several pressing questions. First and foremost is, What caused the sudden jump in lead levels seen in the water samples? Hopefully our witnesses will have some answers.

But equally important, is the longer-term question of whether or not our system properly responded to the incident. It has been almost two years since the first water samples tested high in lead.

What we know for certain is that somewhere between the source and the spigot, something went wrong. What we need to know is why is it taking two years to solve this problem.