High lead levels force workers in Congress building to drink bottled wat

Cannon House Office Building cited as having high lead levels amid investigations into lead contamination of water systems across US

-by Oliver Milman, originally posted on June 29, 2016


Concerns about dangerous lead in drinking water have reached Congress – quite literally. It’s been discovered that a key congressional office building has high lead levels in its water supply, with workers being provided with bottled water to consume instead.

A recent routine test found the elevated lead levels in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington DC, according to an email sent out by William Weidemeyer, the House office buildings superintendent.

According to Politico, Weidemeyer’s memo to lawmakers and their staff states that the lead levels are “slightly above the EPA standard”.

“Although the cause of the increase remains under investigation, in an abundance of caution all drinking water sources and office-provided water filtration units in the building will be turned off beginning at 10pm Tuesday, June 28, 2016,” the email reads.

The five-story Cannon House Office Building has provided office space for members of Congress since 1908. The building, which is connected to the Capitol via a tunnel, is undergoing a $750m renovation, which started in January last year.

Washington DC has had previous brushes with lead-in-water problems, with the city exposed as having lax testing practices 10 years ago. Subsequent reporting, including by the Guardian, has shown that lead levels in dozens of US cities have been downplayed by testing that can obscure the true amount of contamination.

Congress still hasn’t finalized an aid package for Flint, Michigan, which has been gripped by a toxic water crisis for the past two years. Around 8,000 children in Flint may experience developmental and behavioral problems due to the lead exposure, which occurred when drinking water from the Flint river wasn’t treated properly in a cost-cutting drive.

A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council this week revealed that more than than 18 million Americans are served drinking water by providers that have violated federal laws concerning lead in water. Despite this, only 3% of water utilities have faced any penalty over these violations, which include the failure to properly test or treat water.

Democratic congressman Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint and has an office in the Cannon building, said the incident shows lawmakers should do more to eradicate lead in water.

Congress has so far failed to act on Flint aid and now some members of Congress have had their own water shut off due to high lead levels in their Washington offices.

Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin and high levels of lead in water anywhere is a public health emergency. It is long past time that Congress get serious about this health threat. Helping Flint families ought to be as much of a priority as ensuring safe water on Capitol Hill.

Every American deserves to have access to safe drinking water. America is the richest and most prosperous country in the world – we can afford to provide safe drinking water to our citizens.

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