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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Get the Lead Out: Water Contamination

Aired February 15, 2004 - 09:36   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN ANCHOR: Drinking water, it's something most of us take for granted. But despite modern advances, lead contamination in drinking water continues to be a problem. As CNN's Elaine Quijano reports, the plight of a Washington, D.C. woman shows us why we all need to pay more attention to the water coming out of our tap.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Marilyn Lashley bought her nearly century-old home in Washington, D.C., she thought the house's copper pipes meant her water would be safe from lead. But through a city notice, she learned testing by D.C. water officials found lead more than ten times higher than the federal government's accepted level of 15 parts per billion.

MARILYN LASHLEY, D.C. RESIDENT: My reading on the first draw was 79 parts per billion. On the second draw, it was 187 parts per billion. So that was quite alarming.

QUIJANO: Alarming, because lead is known to cause brain damage. D.C. Water officials say they're working on the problem citywide, replacing the water mains that connect to houses, which can leach lead into the water. But so far, the city's replaced only a trickle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've thus far replaced about 500 of the 23,000 lines. It's a cumbersome process. It involves digging up the street, going out and unearthing a water main and digging up 40 or 50 feet of pipe that runs from the main back toward the house.

QUIJANO (on camera): Officials say they plan to replace more than 1,000 lines this year, a rate that would mean taking nearly 23 years before all work was complete.

(voice-over): But why weren't the pipes replaced before now? City officials say, until recently, they saw low levels of lead, which were in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations. And it's not just D.C. EPA officials say lead pipes are of particular concerns in older cities. But they call the problem manageable. Yet they also emphasize communication in D.C.'s case could have been better.

BEN GRUMBLES, EPA: We are working closely with the district, and with the other entities involved to really help get out the word, and encourage more sampling.

QUIJANO: Yet that's little comfort to residents like Marilyn.

LASHLEY: To think that I've been subjecting myself to that contamination for four years. Some people have lived in this neighborhood 50 years.

QUIJANO: Marilyn hopes for her health that the discovery of lead in her water hasn't come too late.

Elaine Quijano, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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