Policy

Water in House Office Building Too Dangerous to Drink

Congressional administrators investigating sudden spike in lead levels

Jiaxuan Tai, 5, takes a drink from the fountain on the west front of the Capitol in July 2006. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

All sources of drinking water in the Cannon House Office Building were shut down Tuesday after the architect of the Capitol noticed unusually high amounts of lead during routine sampling, a health scare lawmakers deemed totally unacceptable.  

“The most recent results, received the week of June 27, 2016, indicate lead levels in primary drinking water sources (e.g., drinking fountains) are slightly above the Environmental Protection Agency standard,” AOC officials warned on an internal discussion board.  

[ Lead in the Water, Way Beyond Flint ]  

In a separate alert blasted out electronically, House Office Buildings Superintendent William Weidemeyer explained that the situation appeared to be contained to Cannon, and that affected staffers would be provided with bottled water in the interim.  

[ Work Begins on 10-Year Cannon Renewal Project ]  

“The AOC considers the health and safety of the congressional community to be of utmost priority,” Weidemeyer assured Hill staff.  

Rep. Dan Kildee, the Michigan Democrat whose hometown of Flint continues to be plagued by contaminated drinking water, was adamant about cleaning up the situation once and for all.  

[ Kildee to Congress: Act Now on Flint ]  

“Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin and high levels of lead in water anywhere is a public health emergency. It is long past time that Congress get serious about this health threat,” he said in a statement. “Helping Flint families ought to be as much of a priority as ensuring safe water on Capitol Hill.”  

Florida Republican Dennis A. Ross, an occupant of Cannon, gave the inspector general and general counsel tasked with monitoring House operations until close of business Wednesday to go into explicit detail about the ongoing investigation (How are corrosive materials being handled? What is the exact level of lead reflected in the latest test?). He also urged the AOC to proactively mitigate potential health risks.

Dennis Ross letter regarding CHOB drinking water

“There are pregnant women and women of child-bearing age who have been drinking this water for years,” Ross noted in a strongly worded letter.  

“Even more distressing is the fact the signs posted due to this matter simply state ‘out of order,’ with no explanation whatsoever, rather than informing the public the public as to the reason,” he wrote.  

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

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