Policy

Ross Requests Investigation into Murky Capitol Hill Water Scare

Officials must answer for “alarming unresponsiveness” on lead levels

Florida Rep. Dennis Ross blasted the "alarming unresponsiveness and poor communication" of staff at the architect of the Capitol over the water contamination scare. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Florida Republican Rep. Dennis A. Ross wants the Office of Compliance to take a hard look at how Stephen T. Ayers, the architect of the Capitol, has handled a health scare precipitated by the detection of lead-contaminated drinking water in the Cannon House Office Building last month.  

In the two weeks since government officials were first warned about the potential health hazard, the actions of the architect of the Capitol have ranged from temporarily disabling a handful of drinking fountains to offering free, voluntary check-ups to worried staffers.  

[ Blood Tests for House Staffers Concerned About Tainted Water ]  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, consuming lead can adversely affect children, expectant mothers and adults in different ways. Watchdogs from the EPA to the World Health Organization maintain that “there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.”  

The AOC responded to concerns about the potential long-range impact of ingesting tainted water with sporadic email blasts and campus-wide alerts, dribbling out additional details every few days.  

Friday’s update included snippets about how the regularly scheduled water testing is conducted (two samples, or “draws” are taken from targeted locations), and where said testing occurs (public hallways, bathrooms and members’ private offices).  

An FAQ posted a few days earlier identified the locations of the suspected sources of contamination throughout Cannon (hallway drinking fountains on floors one, two, four, five and in the basement) and outlined how new tests were being ordered for an on-site childcare facility and other office buildings.  

At Roll Call’s request, the AOC provided more information on why the decision was made to shut the water off in Cannon late last month.  

Once the five known sources tested positive, officials elected to take them out of service pending the completion of routine maintenance actions, such as cleaning screens and flushing pipes.  

“The results from the June testing of the Cannon building are anomalous to our historical data and prompted the AOC, in an abundance of caution, to turn off drinking water sources throughout the building and provide bottled water,” AOC spokeswoman Erin Courtney said .  

She said that staff in the Office of Safety Fire and Environmental Programs is actively monitoring the situation and consulting with the EPA about test results.  

The incremental approach to transparency is not sitting well with Ross.  

Having previous written not one, but two letters to House overseers about the unsettling matter, he is now hoping to stir the OOC to action.  

[ Ultimatum Given on Tainted Water in House Office Building ]  

The Florida Republican decried the “alarming unresponsiveness and poor communication” demonstrated by AOC staff in the early days of the water stoppage.  

Letter from Rep. Dennis A. Ross to Office of Compliance

“I ask that you immediately look into the gross lack of and poor external and internal communications by the architect of the Capitol regarding this lead detection,” Ross urged.  

Contact Rojas at warrenrojas@rollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @WARojas .

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