Credit: Courtesy Iris Bond Gill

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Water sources in renovated and even recently constructed school buildings have tested positive for elevated levels of lead, just one of the concerns raised at a D.C. Council hearing yesterday.

The joint hearing, held by the Committee of Education and the Committee on Transportation and The Environment, was called in part as a response to community outrage over the Department of General Services’ failure to swiftly communicate lead testing results to parents of students who may have been affected.

“I want to apologize on behalf of the D.C. government,” said Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles, acknowledging that the government had made mistakes in remediating lead problems and communicating with parents in a timely fashion.

Although she offered an apology, Niles was adamant that the District “know[s] of no instances where any students have elevated levels of lead due to a school’s drinking water.”

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DGS began this week to install filters on all DCPS drinking sources, according to DGS Director Christopher Weaver. Weaver estimates filters will be installed in all schools in approximately four to six months. “We are very confident in the filters,” which should reduce lead levels to one part per billion, he said.

The committees held the hearing a day after Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s administration announced the District’s new one ppb lead standard, which is stricter than the current EPA standard (15 ppb). The District standard follows guidelines recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

DGS and its contractors found high lead levels even in new buildings. Dunbar High School’s building was constructed in 2013 but testing found several water sources which contained lead levels higher than 15 ppb. Weaver blamed copper piping for the presence of lead in new buildings. (Copper pipes can be connected with lead solder, which can contaminate water.)

Dunbar is not the only recently renovated or built school to have high levels of lead in its water. “Seven million dollars was spent to renovate Payne Elementary and we’re still having problems with lead in our school,” said Charles Swartz, a representative of the Payne Elementary PTA. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie also noted that Brookland Middle School, which only opened last fall, had a water source which tested positive for lead.

After hearing testimony from J.O. Wilson Elementary School PTA members, Councilmember Charles Allen, whose daughter attends J.O. Wilson, said the failure to inform parents about the school’s lead testing results angered him as a parent and as a councilmember: “My parenting instinct is red hot.”