Monday, March 1, 2004

Five city residents among 169 screened for lead exposure over the weekend have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstreams, city health officials said yesterday.

However, Dr. Daniel Lucey, interim chief health officer for the D.C. Department of Health, said it is too early to say whether contaminated tap water is to blame.

“That’s not a big enough sample to draw a conclusion,” Dr. Lucey said at a press conference at D.C. General Hospital yesterday.

City officials announced that of the 169 residents screened over the weekend, 39 were in the targeted population that concerns officials the most: pregnant and nursing mothers and children younger than 6.

The tests showed that two children, both age 2, had levels of lead 13 and 14 micrograms per deciliter — slightly above the 10 microgram standard that health officials consider elevated.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say lead exposure of 10 micrograms or greater has been linked with behavior problems and learning disabilities.

Three other adult residents who were not in the targeted population tested positive with levels of 10, 20 and 40 micrograms per deciliter. Dr. Lucey said the woman whose blood level showed 40 micrograms is being tested again.

About 23,000 of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority’s 130,000 service lines contain lead. Samples taken at more than 4,000 homes since 2002 have found lead levels well above the safe range of 15 parts per billion.

City officials are asking residents in the targeted population to be tested. The city health department will hold free blood screenings at D.C. General Hospital, 1900 Massachusetts Ave. SE, Wednesday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We will not turn anyone away,” said D.C. City Administrator Robert Bobb.

Meanwhile, criticism of WASA continued yesterday with a D.C. Council member calling for the resignations of top agency officials.

“The failure by WASA to fully inform customers of the high levels of lead in their homes is inexcusable,” said D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Brazil said he is asking for the resignations of WASA Chairman Glenn Gerstell and the agency’s general manager, Jerry Johnson.

“The District government was kept in the dark, when we could have been working to fix this problem,” Mr. Brazil said.

Last week, Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, also called for top WASA officials to resign.

Mr. Johnson said at yesterday’s press conference that WASA is working to keep customers informed. He said the agency upgraded its Web site so that customers, by entering their account numbers, can determine whether they have lead service lines.

WASA also will buy 10,000 filters for residents served by lead service lines, Mr. Johnson said.

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