- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority received an additional 12,000 water filters yesterday for customers whose tap water is contaminated with lead, but the agency will keep them until determining the most efficient distribution method.

“We have a group of people looking at the fastest way to expedite delivery,” said D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

The 4,300 faucet-mounted and 7,700 pitcher-style PUR water filters were donated by the Procter & Gamble Co.

Earlier this month, the Brita Products Co. donated 10,000 pitcher-style filters.

Mr. Williams directed sewer authority officials Tuesday to make immediate arrangements to supply filters for the 23,000 homes in which high levels of lead have been detected.

He said the problem was “grave,” but that he would not ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare it an official emergency situation.

“We’re already proceeding as if it were an emergency,” Mr. Williams said.

He also said an official declaration would not help because the problem is “going to be with us a long time.”

The faucet-mounted filters last two to three months, said Kurt Weingand, associate director of external relations for Procter & Gamble. The pitcher-style filters should last one to two months.

The sewer authority will provide replacement filters when the originals expire, said Jerry N. Johnson, the general manager.

Mr. Johnson also said the filters were not immediately distributed, in part, because the authority wants to create a tracking system to order replacements.

The authority plans to hold five public meetings starting Monday to discuss the problem further. Representatives from the city’s Department of Health and its Emergency Management Agency as well as the Washington Aqueduct will be on hand.

On Tuesday, water-filtration experts said Brita water filters are not designed to compensate for the service lines of as many as 1,017 D.C. homes in which lead levels have been found to exceed 150 parts per billion.

Virginia Tech scientist Marc Edwards, who earlier this month testified before Congress, said the Brita pitcher filters are fully effective only for water containing lead levels lower than 150 ppb.

“If the water contains higher amounts of lead, the cartridges will wear out more quickly,” Mr. Edwards said. He also said users would get diminishing results from the filters.

The District handed out 2,182 Brita pitcher filters as of Tuesday to homeowners.

Representatives of Brita, who didn’t want to be identified for this story, said the filters are not designed for and are still being tested for removing lead levels higher than 150 ppb.

For water containing levels of lead lower than 150 ppb, the Brita pitcher filter is designed to remove 98 percent of the lead.

“For anything over 150 ppb, we recommend flushing the water for five minutes and replacing the filter at least once a month,” a Brita representative said.

Sewer authority records show that 848 of the 6,118 homes tested last year had lead levels from 100 to 300 ppb and that 157 had levels in excess of 300 ppb, said Marilyn Stackhouse, an agency spokeswoman.

This year, sewer authority officials said, a second round of tests of 621 homes has shown 12 with lead levels between 150 and 300 ppb.

Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Mr. Williams, said the mayor’s office has been advising residents to flush the drinking water lines and replace the filter at least once a month. He said the filters “probably” are effective at levels higher than 150 ppb.

However, some D.C. homeowners said they will not put up with regular filter replacements and water flushing.

“I couldn’t be bothered to do it,” said Morgan Knull, a real estate agent whose Southeast home is among those with elevated lead levels. “Washington, D.C.’s crime problems and incompetent bureaucracy will kill me long before lead ever will.”

Mr. Knull said he continues to drink his tap water without filtering, flushing or boiling it.

Of the 6,118 homes tested last year, 11 had lead levels exceeding 500 ppb. One house in Northeast had a lead level reading of 48,000 ppb, and one in Northwest had 24,000 ppb.

Mr. Edwards said he would not trust the filters to effectively remove lead from water supplies where the level exceeds 500 ppb. But he stressed that such levels are rare and said the Brita filters should work on most of the problem water lines.

“It’s important for people to be aware that Brita filters have certain limitations,” Mr. Edwards said. “In the vast majority of cases, though, people using them are going to drastically reduce their lead exposure.”

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