Drinking Through a Lead Straw in the District

According to NRDC’s new report Washington DC just distinguished itself—we are in the top 10 most lead-pipes-per-100,000 people of any state (or District) in the US. Not great news for the as many as 31,000 households drinking water through a lead straw. This is the latest in a long string of dubious distinctions for the District’s drinking water when it comes to lead contamination.

Photo by PS Photography from Pexels

Long before the Flint water crisis, therewas DC, a multi-year lead poisoning event that shocked the nation. Parents found out their water was unsafe and had been for years in a shocking article on the front page of the Washington Post, and the lead levels here were at least as high as Flint. Twenty years later, astoundingly throughout DC the pipes are still in the ground and, according to the utility's own data, they're still leaching lead into drinking water.

There have been several failed attempts and commitments to get the lead out of our water systems over the years. For example, the utility set out to replace lead pipes by 2016, but never did. More recently, the District’s Inspector General criticized the utility for failing to even identify pipe materials accurately. The utility’s General Manager has committed to a new 10 year replacement target, but has also stated that such a move is contingent on funding.

Recently, more than 650 District residents joined with the revived group, Lead Emergency Action for the District to call on the Mayor to finally provide funding for lead service line replacement so the utility can meet its commitment to get the lead pipes out within 10 years. Absent strong federal action or sufficient funding, there seems to be no meaningful movement to get the pipes out. Generations of District residents, especially children, especially racial minorities and poor residents have suffered.

About the Authors

Valerie Baron

Senior Attorney and Director, National Policy, People & Communities Program
Blog Post

Only about four miles north of the Capitol, my neighborhood in Washington DC is riddled with lead pipes, and like lead pipes throughout the country, the ones in Washington DC leach contribute to widespread contamination. Paradoxically, due to a confusing and inadequate system of safeguards, Washington DC is in compliance with federal drinking water regulations for lead.

Blog Post
Blog Post

Most of our household plumbing contains some amount of lead, whether in faucets, fittings, lead solder, or lead pipes, but lead service lines present the largest source and risk of lead in drinking water.

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