Architect Increases Capitol Water Testing

Posted March 3, 2004 at 6:30pm

The Architect of the Capitol’s office confirmed Wednesday it has stepped up tests of drinking water across the Hill in response to recent revelations by the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority that lead contamination levels may exceed federal standards in thousands of District homes.

“Due to the recent discovery by WASA, the AOC has increased sampling of the water supply on Capitol Hill, starting with the child care facilities and page dorms, as a precaution,” spokeswoman Eva Malecki wrote in an e-mail.

Unlike tap water tests conducted by WASA — which confirmed lead contamination levels above the federal limit of 15 parts per billion in up to 23,000 homes that receive water through lead service lines — none of the AOC’s tests conducted so far have indicated lead levels that would create “a medical risk” to Capitol Hill staff, Malecki said. The Architect’s office did not respond to requests for specific test results.

A spokesman in the Attending Physician’s Office, which reviews the AOC’s lead testing results, confirmed the tests have not prompted any health concerns.

High levels of lead can result in damage to the nervous system, brain, kidneys and red blood cells. Young children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead-related illness.

AOC officials noted that lead service lines linked to homes with high lead concentrations are not typically used in larger buildings, such as the Capitol or its office buildings.

Nevertheless, Malecki added: “The AOC will continue to work with the [physician’s office] to monitor the Capitol complex water supply to ensure that the water is safe to drink.”

The Architect’s office began regularly testing the Hill’s water supply in the early 1990s, Malecki noted, following the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reduce acceptable levels for lead in drinking water.

In 1992, AOC officials shut down water fountains in the Dirksen Senate Office Building when nearly two dozen tests showed lead levels above accepted limits. Those tests were part of a wider 221 sample survey that included all three Senate office buildings, the Capitol Police headquarters and the Senate daycare center.

Similarly, water fountains in the House Ford Office Building were replaced following a 1991 survey of 85 House-side sinks and water fountains. In that instance, holding tanks within the fountains were blamed for high lead levels.