Democratic Duo Requests Water Data

Posted March 7, 2005 at 6:44pm

As the Architect of the Capitol continues to sample water supplies across the Congressional campus for evidence of lead contamination, two House Democrats are calling for increased access to the test results.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) have asked the House Administration Committee, which oversees the Architect, to make office-specific test results available to House lawmakers upon request. Such information would include numerical data, as well as a detailed description of the sampling strategy and procedures. In addition, the pair wants Members to have access to data on “all other sources” of water available in public areas of the House office buildings, including restrooms, kitchens and other facilities.

“Every one of us has the right and responsibility to know the details, good and bad, about something as fundamental as the quality of the water in our workplace,” the Democrats wrote in a letter issued Friday to House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

Officials in AOC Alan Hantman’s office had contacted Markey’s office last month, an aide to the Massachusetts lawmaker said, to report that fixtures in his suite had successfully tested below the maximum lead safety levels of 20 parts per billion set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But AOC officials declined to provide the office with specific information, the aide added, citing a policy set by the House Administration panel.

Kucinich’s staff said the Ohioan’s office has not received test results on fixtures in their suite, but had sought additional information on public facilities located near the office.

“As far as we are concerned, it is unconscionable that we are being denied information that has a direct bearing on the health and well being of our staff and our constituents,” Markey and Kucinich wrote in the letter. “The bottom line is that if a member is interested in knowing exactly, faucet by faucet, what the Architect found when it tested fixtures for lead in that Member’s office or in public service areas of the House Office Buildings, then he or she should be given the results, period.”

In response to the letter, Brian Walsh, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), stated: “The chairman, the committee, and the dozens of House employees who have been working on this important issue are addressing it with the utmost seriousness, and Chairman Ney will be happy to speak with Members if they have any questions or concerns.” He added that Ney would also provide lawmakers the results for their offices, if they are interested.

AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said Friday that tests are still ongoing in private office spaces, such as kitchenettes and faucets, and added that only a “small portion” have been completed in the House facilities.

“We have not released any specific suite or private information yet,” said Malecki, who later added: “As far as the private spaces go, because there are so many, and we’re doing such an extensive amount of sampling, we’re just getting the first results.”

Malecki said both House and Senate offices will receive individual results from the AOC, which is working in conjunction with the Public Health Service’s Division of Federal Occupational Health and the EPA to determine the source of the lead, once testing is finished, but that could take at least several weeks.

Walsh noted that in areas where test results show elevated levels of lead, the AOC is prepared to remedy the faulty fixtures.

“In conducting these tests, the House has followed strict EPA and Federal Occupational Health Services guidelines and for those very few offices where the water exceeded the allowable limit, they will be notified and their faucets replaced immediately,” Walsh said.

Although Kucinich praised the House Administration panel’s work in a separate statement, he reiterated his belief that numerical data should be publicized.

“This is a simple right to know issue. … I am glad to see the House Administration Committee has begun to address this issue, but until all the data is released I do not believe anyone can be fully assured of the safety of the water,” Kucinich stated. “We must address this issue promptly. We can not hang a sign outside the Capitol that says, ‘Welcome to our nation’s symbol of freedom and democracy, just don’t drink the water.’”

The AOC announced it would test water sources throughout all Congressional facilities earlier this year, following the December discovery of elevated lead levels in drinking water in all three Library of Congress buildings.

The Office of Compliance cited the AOC in early January as a result.

The AOC did release building specific notifications to Capitol Hill employees in January that included general results for public areas, including drinking fountains and kitchen facilities.

Although the memorandums, issued to each of the House and Senate office buildings, noted the number of facilities tested, the data did not include specific locations or test results for those water sources testing above EPA guidelines.

According to the Architect’s office, close to 90 percent of public water sources located in the complex’s major facilities — the Capitol and its office buildings — tested below the maximum lead safety levels. In several facilities, including the Capitol itself, the Architect has said no fixtures tested above the federal limits.

In addition, Malecki noted that tests for the Capitol Power Plant and Fort Meade, the Army base in Maryland that’s home to off-site storage facilities for the Library of Congress, also appear to be showing positive results.

“We haven’t had any problems,” Malecki said, noting those facilities are not considered public buildings.

The results have prompted some remedial action including the shutdown of a handful of drinking fountains and kitchen facilities in the House and Senate office buildings, and the posting of signs in restrooms instructing visitors not to drink water from sink faucets.

Similar actions were also taken in the three Library of Congress buildings.