Congressional Office Building Has Lead-Tainted Water

WASHINGTON — Groundskeepers have shut off all drinking water sources inside an office building at the U.S. Capitol after routine testing revealed high levels of lead. 

Mamie Bittner, a spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol, said a recent water sample analysis showed that lead concentrations in the Cannon House Office Building’s water exceeded the federal standard of 15 parts per billion.

“While these tests continue, in an abundance of caution, we have turned off all drinking water sources and office-provided water filtration units in the Cannon House Office Building,” Bittner said in an email.

“Restrooms and kitchen sinks will be available for non-drinking use and bottled water will be available throughout the building,” Bittner wrote. “Building operations will not be impacted. This situation only impacts the Cannon building.”

Lead is a poisonous metal that can cause miscarriages if pregnant women ingest it, and can damage the brains of young children.  

It is long past time that Congress get serious about this health threat. Helping Flint families ought to be as much of a priority as ensuring safe water on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.)

Cannon is one of three large buildings on the Capitol’s south side, where members of the House of Representatives keep offices. One member with an office there is Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) — the congressman from Flint, Michigan, where lead has poisoned the water since 2014. 

“Congress has so far failed to act on Flint aid and now some Members of Congress have had their own water shut off due to high lead levels in their Washington offices,” he said in an emailed statement.  

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

Proposals to help Flint and other cities replace lead water pipes haven’t cleared the U.S. House or Senate. One Republican who has vocally opposed the assistance said Congress shouldn’t nationalize a local water problem. 

As many as 10 million American homes and buildings get water from pipes made of lead, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Federal law requires local water systems to monitor the water for its lead content and also its corrosiveness, since more corrosiveness means more lead can leach into the water. 

The EPA is considering more aggressive requirements about replacing lead pipes, something water utilities aren’t often forced to do.

The historic neighborhood around the U.S. Capitol in Washington has lots of pipes made from lead — which wasn’t banned from plumbing materials until the 1980s, despite the known dangers of lead exposure. In the early 2000s, water treatment changes made the city’s water more corrosive, and its lead content spiked dramatically.

Bittner couldn’t provide additional information about the source of the lead in Cannon, such as whether it came from the building’s internal plumbing or from service lines that connect the building to a water main.

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