Lead Levels At Library Prompt Study

Posted January 7, 2005 at 6:40pm

The Architect of the Capitol’s office said Friday it is conducting a comprehensive survey of drinking water across Capitol Hill, following the discovery of elevated lead levels in drinking water in all three Library of Congress buildings.

The announcement came in response to a citation issued Jan. 3 by the Office of Compliance, which found water samples from the Jefferson and Adams buildings exceeded lead safety levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

An amended citation issued Friday also included the Madison Building.

“Water samples taken during calendar year 2004 by the AOC, the LOC, and the OOC at various locations and tested by a certified laboratory, confirmed that the water coming from drinking fountains and restroom faucets in certain locations in the LOC Adams, Jefferson and Madison Buildings contained lead at levels above the lead action level established by the EPA … in concentrations greater than 20 parts per billion,” the citation states.

According to a statement from the AOC’s office, samples were taken from more than 350 locations within the LOC complex after elevated lead levels were detected in early December.

In response to test results, the AOC has shut down the drinking water system throughout the Adams Building, and is providing bottled water to employees in that facility. In addition, six drinking fountains in the Madison Building and three fountains in the Jefferson Building have been removed from service.

According to the Office of Compliance citation, the Architect’s office must also established a long-term remediation plan that may involve “renovation, repair, filtration and monitoring” of the water system within six months.

In the meantime, the agency must provide legislative branch employees with educational information on the health effects of drinking water with high levels of lead, and it must also ensure that employees do not consume water from bathroom faucets in the buildings.

The discovery, prompted by two “Requests for Safety and Health Inspections” filed by the Library of Congress Professional Guild, has created unease among some Library employees.

“People are concerned about the health effects and they’re also concerned about where to get water,” said Guild President Saul Schniderman. Many employees use water from bathroom faucets for coffee and are also concerned about food services in the building.

“Until the AOC identifies the source of the lead contamination, the guild will insist that bottled water be provide to all employees,” added Schniderman, who represents the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 2910. “Signs need to be posted in all Library buildings instructing staff not to drink the water and identifying alternate sources.”

The Architect’s office is working in conjunction with the EPA and Public Health Services’ Federal Occupational Health office, as well as engineering consultants, to determine the source of the lead.

The AOC acknowledged in a statement that it tested drinking water at 246 locations across Capitol Hill following the spring 2004 discovery of elevated lead levels by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority.

“This testing confirmed that service lines leading into the buildings were not creating elevated drinking water lead levels and indicated that a few sinks or water fountains in office building locations had slightly elevated levels of lead,” the statement reads. The statement did not identify the sites, but it said those locations were either serviced by maintenance personnel or taken out of service.

According to the Architect’s statement, new results from Hill-wide testing should soon be completed: “The AOC will take appropriate actions as results arrive and will communicate building specific results with occupants in the coming weeks,” the statement reads.