- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

Anyone who has followed the dissembling by the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) during the tap-water lead-contamination scandal should not be surprised that the matter has entered the legal arena. Yesterday, two Capitol Hill families initiated a class-action lawsuit against the D.C. government and WASA, alleging that WASA had been aware of the lead-contamination problem as early as 2001 and tried to conceal its findings from the public. Notwithstanding WASA’s propensity for obfuscation, the authority’s own chronology appears to confirm that assertion.

WASA knew in the summer of 2001 that it was in violation of lead standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has established an “action level” for lead of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Since 1992, according to EPA regulations, water suppliers such as WASA have been required to “collect water samples from household taps twice a year and analyze them to find out if lead is present above 15 ppb in more than 10 percent of all homes tested.” WASA’s annual (July 1 to June 30) sample size has been 50 households.

At a meeting last month with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, WASA officials reported that during the July 2001-June 2002 year, half the samples (i.e., 25) were taken in the early summer of 2001 and the other 25 samples were taken during the spring of 2002. The “more than 10 percent” action level would have been reached when six samples tested above the 15 ppb limit. At the meeting at The Times, WASA officials acknowledged that at least eight of the samples taken during the early summer of 2001 tested above 15 ppb. Thus, WASA had to know by the early summer of 2001 that its July 2001 to June 2002 sampling results would exceed the 10 percent level — even if 100 percent of the 25 samples taken during the spring of 2002 fell below the 15 ppb limit.

WASA did not inform the EPA until August 2002. WASA officials have sought to excuse their negligence by hiding behind the September 11 attacks. That is especially disconcerting. Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that WASA was not required to report its violation until then. Given that WASA knew with certainty before September 11 that it would be in violation, it is inexcusable for WASA officials to claim, as they have, that the aftermath of September 11 significantly contributed to their failure to adequately inform D.C. residents of the lead-contamination problem.

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