Lead testing in public facilities got the D.C. Council’s attention during a June 22 public hearing. This was in swift response to recent concerns about lead found in public schools, libraries, and recreation centers’ drinking water. Coincidentally, the new, stricter AAP Lead Policy Statement, Prevention of Childhood Lead Toxicity, was published days before the hearing. The DC AAP accordingly took the opportunity to advocate for children by testifying about the dangers of lead exposure and the need for primary prevention practices. DC AAP Board Member, Lenore Jarvis MD, MEd, FAAP, spoke at the hearing on behalf of DC AAP.
There is no safe lead level for children, DC AAP emphasized in its testimony. Mounting evidence shows that even lead levels below 5 μg/dL (50 ppb) can lead to cognitive impairment and behavioral concerns in children. Evidence-based, cost-effective guidance is available to decrease lead not only in water but also in housing, soil, and consumer products. Public policy should focus on eliminating lead exposure, including taking steps to ensure that water in public facilities does not exceed lead concentrations of 1 ppb.
Councilmembers were engaged and receptive to the DC AAP testimony and asked multiple follow-up questions. This afforded AAP the opportunity to further educate councilmembers about signs and symptoms of lead toxicity, sources of lead exposure, lead screening practices, and recommended policies for lead standards and prevention measures. Councilmember Charles Allen tweeted several quotes from the DC AAP testimony, and the AAP guidelines were later shared by several local news sources, including NBC 4, Fox 5, and The Washington Post.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration and the Department of General Services are responding. They have announced the District’s new 1 ppb lead standard, similar to AAP guidelines, rather than the current EPA standard of 15 ppb. The District also plans to install filters on all drinking water sources at public schools, public libraries, and recreation centers by the end of 2016.