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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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GW considers testing water for lead

GW officials said there are no indications of lead contamination in the University’s residence halls but have yet to test on-campus drinking water as the District struggles to address a widespread contamination.

Bob Ludwig, the University’s interim director of Media Relations, said officials are considering testing the water in University buildings and will make a decision “as quick as it can be made.”

“This is a situation we’re monitoring very closely,” he said. “We want to make the best decision we can.”

He noted that smaller townhouses might be more prone to lead-contaminated water because they were built in the early 1900s and often receive water from lead pipes.

“We’re looking at it right now,” said Ludwig, who emphasized that GW would be following the city’s lead in determining if the campus’ water supply needs to be tested.

“If there is a citywide risk, then obviously the government … will have to deal with the problem,” Ludwig said.

“We’re at no more risk than the rest of the community at this point,” he added.

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, which is the only water distributor in the District, pipes water from the Washington Aqueduct directly into individual lines supplying buildings in D.C.

The main water lines are made of copper, not lead, said Keith Givens, a WASA community relations coordinator. However, single family homes dating back to the early 1900s may have private lead service lines because of a shortage of copper during that era.

University officials are assisting the District in its fight to curb lead contamination in city-supplied water.

Members of GW’s Environ-mental and Occupational Health Department, which is part of the School of Public Health and Health Services, will provide health and medical input regarding lead toxicity, said Tee Guidotti, department’s chair.

“We don’t necessarily see it as a long-term partnership,” he said. “We see ourselves as helping in a difficult situation and assisting the community.”

WASA, which has scrambled to eradicate lead from city water in recent months, asked the department for assistance because it houses many public health experts, said John Williams, University provost and vice president for Health Affairs.

“We’re the only School of Public Health in D.C., and there are some very well-known folks in that department,” he said. “They wanted another outside opinion, other than the D.C. Department of Health … We will work with them to figure out both the current situation and the future.”

GW water experts have already been consulted about the city’s water problem. Earlier this month, Jerome Paulson, an associate professor of pediatrics, testified at two D.C. City Council hearings on lead poisoning.

“We are there to provide information to health professionals and the general public on issues of environmental health,” said Paulson, who is also co-director of the Mid Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and Environment.

Paulson recommended ways to manage medical aspects of the problem, including requiring WASA to actively test all homes known to have lead service lines.

Ingesting lead can lead to neurological as well as red blood cell and kidney damage. Paulson said the D.C. Department of Health is aware of a few children with blood levels that could suggest lead contamination.

“The health problems are all down the pike (for these children) if they were to occur,” he said. “There is no known safe lead level.”

While WASA does not have specific information on what regions of D.C. have been most affected by lead contamination, Givens said there is a large number of cases in the Capitol Hill area, which has many older buildings.

Wanda Stevens-Harris, a member of the Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a community advisory board, said the city has not handled the situation well.

“I’ve contacted WASA myself to request that they conduct tests of my constituents, but I haven’t received any results … We should not be penalized for their incompetence,” she said.

Residents concerned about water quality can request a free test kit from WASA, which should provide the results of the tests within a few weeks, Givens said. WASA also recommends running cold water for two minutes before drinking it or purchasing special water filters to remove lead.

-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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