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Water utility managers and public-health officials may be getting the wrong message about what happened during Washington, D.C.’s drinking-water crisis.
At water conferences across the U.S., scientists and engineers are talking about lessons learned from the record levels of lead in Washington, D.C., drinking water that caused panic in the city in 2004. Government agencies describe the lack of harm from the incident; this has prompted many water and public-health professionals to argue that the D.C. experience shows that lead in drinking water is not a health threat. As a result, some experts now question the need for complex and costly technologies to control corrosion and keep lead levels low.
But are the water experts being misled? An extensive 2-year investigation by Virginia Polytechnic and State University corrosion engineer Marc Edwards, who initially identified the severity of the D.C. problem, and further ES&T reporting reveal that the federal and local agencies charged with overseeing the D.C. water system used flawed science to try to quiet public concerns.