In 2004, FLINTWATERSTUDY’s Dr. Marc Edwards was asked by (then MI State Senator) Virg Bernero to assist on a lead-in-water problem in Lansing, MI. The city’s water utility had been caught cheating on their Lead and Copper Rule monitoring requirements by manipulating the sampling — their failing lead-in-water report grade was changed into a passing grade. Sound familiar?
Incredibly, at the time, there was heated debate about whether elevated lead in water posed any health concern to children whatsoever. When confronted with decades of peer reviewed articles demonstrating that lead in water exposures could cause lead poisoning, especially amongst infants less than 1 year old, Michigan health officials repeatedly cited new research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that indicated there was nothing to worry about.
The CDC had concluded that exposure to astronomical levels of lead in Washington D.C. drinking water, did not elevate the blood lead of any children over CDC levels of concern even in the “worst case” exposures. It took 6 years of volunteer work by scientists, D.C. citizens and a bi-partisan Congressional Investigation to reveal that this 2004 CDC report was “scientifically indefensible.”
To Bernero’s credit, he refused to rely on the flawed CDC study, and did not back down even when he was accused of creating a “lead scare.” After studying the problem thoroughly, he wrote:
I am today calling on our state and local public health officials, water utilities and state environmental regulators to cease and desist from their ongoing attempts to trivialize the importance of lead in drinking water as a possible source of lead poisoning in children. This nation’s scientific community long ago reached the conclusion that lead is a zero tolerance poison and that all sources of lead must be considered as a threat to the health of our children. … When it comes to the health of our children, we cannot afford to wait. We cannot afford to accept the baseless conclusions and bland assurances of those who refuse to accept, for whatever reason, that we need to be concerned about the presence of lead in drinking water. We must not delay. We must act now.
Today Lansing has become a national success story—they have fully replaced 15,500 of 17,000 lead service lines, and they have a firm plan to replace them all. However, the opportunity to learn anything from the tragedy in Washington DC, and prevent harm to children throughout the U.S., never really took root anywhere else. Reasonably intelligent people can be forgiven for having trusted the CDC in 2004. Now that we have once again learned that elevated lead in water can cause elevated blood lead in children and adverse pregnancy outcomes, it is time to take the health threat from lead in water seriously and extend the Lansing model to the rest of the U.S.
The key elements of the proposed 2005 Michigan lead action plan were as follows:
Department of Environmental Quality
- Take immediate action to identify all communities in Michigan where lead service lines are still in use.
- Issue a water quality advisory to all such identified communities urging them to conduct profile tests as soon as practicable to determine if their lead service lines are leaching lead into drinking water at hazardous levels.
Department of Community Health
- Immediately review and revise the protocols for testing the tap water in homes where lead-burdened children have been identified.
- Take prompt action on legislation to adopt new standards for lead testing of household tap water and require annual notification to all residents of homes where a lead service line is present.
- Require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expedite the revision of the Lead and Copper Rule to strengthen federal safe drinking water standards to protect the public from the hazards of lead-contaminated drinking water.
- Make additional funds available to the states to assist local communities in expediting the removal of lead service lines.
The key elements of the JEFFORDS, SARBANES, NORTON & WAXMAN LEAD-FREE DRINKING WATER ACT (2005) would have:
- Required the EPA to revise the national primary drinking water regulations for lead in drinking water to ensure protection of vulnerable populations such as infants, children, pregnant women, and breast-feeding mothers;
- Required better notification for residents when a water system has high lead levels;
- Required increased water testing and lead remediation in schools and day-care centers nationwide;
- Provided more federal funding to upgrade water distribution systems;
- Banned plumbing components with elevated lead levels.
Because we have been getting a lot of questions about the DC Lead Crisis and CDC’s lead in water work, we are also providing links to the complete 2010 Congressional Report “A PUBLIC HEALTH TRAGEDY: HOW FLAWED CDC DATA AND FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS ENDANGERED CHILDREN’S HEALTH” as well as Dr. Edwards written testimony at the 2010 Congressional hearing. We also make readers aware of the sacrifices made by several heroic whistleblowers who tried to alert the public to high lead in drinking water, activists who ran afoul of the CDC, and several DC citizens who labored for years (in vain) to hold government agencies accountable for the harm that was done to D.C.’s children.
2010 Congressional Report: A Public Health Tragedy: How Flawed CDC Data and Faulty Assumptions endangered children’s health in the nation’s capital
2010 Testimony of Marc Edwards, PhD to the US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, 111th Congress
Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards
Acknowledgements: Siddhartha Roy