The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Get the Lead Out!

May 17, 2004

There's lead in Washington, D.C.'s drinking water.

During the 2001-02 testing period, about half of 53 houses tested in the District showed lead levels that exceed the federal limit. Since then 5,000 additional homes tested were found to have excessive lead in the tap water.

Lead is an odorless, tasteless, colorless metal – which is also toxic to humans. It disrupts production of hemoglobin – a component of red blood cells that carries oxygen to body tissues – which leads to anemia. It interferes with neuron development and neural function, which can cause cognitive problems. It affects the kidneys, which can lead to high blood pressure and even kidney failure.

The effects of lead are cumulative and the damage caused by lead is permanent. This has been known for 80 years. For the last two years, WASA (the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority) knew it had a problem with lead in the water but did nothing about it.

After the scandal became public, WASA began giving out water filters to some residents. But these filters have not been tested at the high levels found in many homes.

WASA is a public utility whose board members are appointed by the D.C. mayor. The agency claims that the fees charged for water are not high enough to cover the costs of supplying it safely to District residents.

This is an old, old story, the complaints of local authorities, and in the case of Washington D.C., federal authorities, that there is no money for services.

Instead of using city funds for clean water, decent schools, health clinics, streets without holes, officials find ways to divert the money to their buddies – the private contractors and real estate developers, for example.

At this very moment, the mayor of Washington D.C. is proposing that the city pay to build a multi-million dollar baseball stadium and a hotel for the Washington Convention Center.

Of course there's money to be had.