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Elissa Silverman said in her Loose Lips column on March 5, “[D.C. Councilmember Carol] Schwartz ripped into [D.C. Water and Sewer Authority] officials for not keeping her abreast of the lead problem.” True. Silverman then went on to say, “According to the agency, WASA did give information to councilmembers about the heightened lead levels in the water.” Not true.
Silverman’s source for this appears to be the following paragraph from an article in the Feb. 1 edition of the Washington Post: “Glenn S. Gerstell, chairman of WASA’s 11-member board of directors, said that WASA had mailed a letter to all 13 D.C. Council members last February noting that initial tests had found that the water exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead limit. He acknowledged, however, that the agency did not send follow-up letters after the larger sampling was done last summer. WASA also did not hold a news conference to discuss its findings.”
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I did not recall ever seeing a letter from WASA that spoke of high lead levels. The next day, I asked my staff, and they did not recall one, either. So we retrieved a Feb. 24, 2003, letter, signed by Michael Marcotte for WASA General Manager Jerry N. Johnson, which WASA told us was the letter referred to in the article. The letter [enclosed], whose subject line was “Living Lead Free in DC/WASA’s 2003 Lead Service Replacement Program,” referred to WASA’s plan “to continue monitoring water for lead” and to “replace approximately 600 lead services in 2003”; it also announced that the agency would be “requesting assistance from selected customers throughout the District to participate in the WASA 2003 Tap Water Sampling & Testing Program for Lead.” Nowhere did it mention that WASA had knowledge of lead levels that exceeded federal standards.
At the first oversight hearing on this matter I held, on Feb. 4 of this year, I read the above letter in full into the record and asked Mr. Gerstell, “Is there anything that mentions excessive lead levels in this letter?” Silence. “Was there anything in this letter that would have alarmed him?” Silence.
And, by the way, during the D.C. Council’s regular oversight hearings on WASA, the safety of our water is questioned and discussed. Not only were we not warned, we were actually told that our water was safe.
When Silverman first approached me with her criticisms regarding the lead matter after a press conference at D.C. General Hospital on Monday, March 1, I told her she should review the tape of the Feb. 4 hearing, because she had not been present.
Two days later, after Silverman’s column had already been written and was being printed, I asked if she had listened to the tape. She responded that she had listened to only some of the oversight hearings, because there were too many hours of tape for her to have reviewed them all. Interesting! I guess it’s just easier to attempt to impugn others with a quick read of fallacious information provided to another newspaper than it is to do time-consuming due diligence.
D.C. Councilmember, At Large