Congressional Office Building’s Water Is Contaminated With Lead

The Cannon House Office Building CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ANDREW HARNIK
The Cannon House Office Building CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ANDREW HARNIK

Tap water in a House office building has elevated lead levels and will be shut off, according to a letter sent to congressional offices first reported by Politico.

The Architect of the Capitol (AOC), which oversees upkeep of House office buildings, sent a letter on Tuesday saying it had received test results for drinking water sources in the Cannon House Office Building indicating lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standard. While the Centers for Disease Control has said that no amount of lead is safe, the level that triggers EPA action is 15 parts of lead per billion.

“Although the cause of the increase remains under investigation, in an abundance of caution all drinking water sources and office-provided water filtration units in the building will be turned off beginning at 10 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, 2016,” it says. Bottled water will be provided instead.

Cannon was built in 1908, long before the use of lead in pipes and plumbing fixtures was restricted in 1986, and is the oldest of the congressional office buildings. It’s currently undergoing a renovation.

Lead contamination in a congressional building may drive home a problem to lawmakers that was brought to public attention with the water crisis in Flint but is national in scope. In 2014, Michigan officials failed to use corrosion control chemicals, which coat lead pipes and keep the lead from leeching into drinking water, after Flint switched its water source to the Flint River. The result was widespread lead poisoning of the city’s population, although it took years of residents voicing complaints and independent scientists conducting tests to get action. isn’t alone, though. A report released earlier in the day on Tuesday found that 1,110 water systems had lead levels in excess of 15 parts per billion in at least 10 percent of homes tested, systems that serve more than 3.9 million people, according to the EPA’s violation and enforcement records. On top of that, 5,363 water systems that serve 18 million people were in violation of the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule in 2015, the rule meant to ensure that Americans are protected from contamination in their drinking water, but just 459 had come back into compliance by the end of the year.

Flint isn’t even counted in those numbers, as state officials haven’t yet officially told the EPA that it’s in violation of the agency’s lead in water rules.

Congressional action on Flint, meanwhile, has been stymied. The financial aid package has yet to make it through the Senate after being held up by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and then by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who claimed that the city has “all the government resources they need to fix the problem.”

And there are between 6 and 10 million lead service lines in use throughout the country, which serve between 15 and 22 million people. Replacing them would come with a big cost at a time when infrastructure spending has fallen to levels not seen since World War II.