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Senators Hear From District Residents on Lead Woes

Two of the Senate’s leaders on clean water issues got up close and personal with Capitol Hill residents on Tuesday to address their concerns about the safety of drinking water in the nation’s capital.

Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) met with members of neighborhood groups at a home in Southeast Washington to hear their thoughts and fears.

“We wanted to get out and learn more about this issue and really get up close to those at risk,” said Crapo, chairman of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife and water.

“You have to put a human side on this issue. We don’t have the opportunity in our Congressional hearings to have all of this testimony, which is why we wanted to come out here,” Crapo said.

The two are aware that there would be no easy answers for District residents, admitting that solving the national problem of unsafe drinking water could cost anywhere from $100 billion to more than $1 trillion.

Jeffords, ranking member on EPW, said that while unsafe drinking water is a national issue, the fact that the problem exists in the nation’s capital is inexcusable.

The Environment and Public Works Committee has oversight over the Environmental Protection Agency, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Army Corps of Engineers, whose Washington Aqueduct provides the District of Columbia its water supply.

The problem “may not be lead in every community, but every community has water issues,” Crapo said.

Katherine Funk, whose home served as the meeting site, complained to the elected officials about the EPA’s apparent longstanding knowledge of the high lead levels in the water supply, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority’s delay in testing tap water for lead and providing citizens with filters.

“One of the things that separates the First World from the Third World is clean drinking water,” Funk said.

Funk and others confessed that they now almost exclusively drink bottled water, something they may reconsider after Jeffords pointed out that there is no guarantee that bottled water is safer.

“I found out that I can’t find out whether the bottled water is affected because there is no requirement for bottled water to be tested, so we have a number of issues that we’ll get to,” Jeffords said.

After the meeting, Jeffords and Crapo posed for pictures with several of the newborn babies brought to the meeting by parents worried about the long-term health effects the presence of lead in the city’s water supply could have on their children.

Ayesha Court, a member of the neighborhood support group Moms on the Hill, said she understands that it’s a difficult and expensive problem to solve, but expressed concern about her baby daughter.

“It’s still scary because I’m watching her grow up and I have to drink water,” Court said.

Children exposed to lead can potentially experience effects such as growth retardation, mental retardation, learning disabilities and anemia, as well as kidney and brain damage, according to a statement released by the minority side of the Environment and Public Works panel.

When asked if they had the water tested in their own D.C. residences, both Senators admitted they had not.

“But I know it will be,” Jeffords said.

The fisheries, wildlife and water subcommittee will hold a hearing today regarding the safety of the D.C. water supply.

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