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The lead on lead: CDC hid harmful effects of contaminated water

We can’t see or taste lead in our water, so if a leading health agency reports that what’s coming out of our faucet is in the clear, we should believe it, right? Not according to a Salon investigation, which revealed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concealed critical information regarding arguably the worst city water lead contamination, which occurred in Washington, D.C., from 2001 to 2004. In 2004, the CDC released a report that downplayed the contamination, simply stating that it "might have contributed to a small increase in blood lead levels." It also excluded up to thousands of children’s blood lead level tests from the report. And that's not all.

In 2007, after discovering that lead pipes in D.C. homes caused speech and balance problems, learning difficulties, and hyperactivity in children, the CDC neglected to publicize the findings or tell the D.C. District Department of the Environment….or HUD...or the EPA…

This is a disaster of accountability from CDC's point of view. This raises troubling questions about CDC's complicity in passing on dubious data -- and further questions about why CDC did not publicize the 2007 results more broadly.

The issue hit the public in February, when a D.C. resident filed a $200 million lawsuit against a D.C. water company, claiming lead caused behavioral problems in his kids. Plus, a recent study published in Environmental Science and Technology countered the CDC’s 2004 statement, showing the D.C. contamination had negatively affected thousands of children.

It would be easier to understand CDC's nonchalance about losing almost half the results for 2003 if its conclusions were consistent with what other scientists found. It's also difficult to understand why the loss of so much data didn't merit a caveat or even a footnote in CDC's report. If the CDC tells parents that they shouldn't worry about their children's health, its evidence had better be rock solid. It's hard to win back lost trust .

Nonchalance probably isn't a word you want associated with the safety of your drinking water. Luckily, there are some measures you can take to protect yourself and your families. Check out these tips from the Environmental Protection Agency. And remember, drinking bottled water doesn’t mean your aqua is clean—and it contributes to a huge plastic waste problem.

1. Use cold water for drinking or cooking. Never cook or mix infant formula using hot water from the tap.

2. Run the water until it is cold before using. This could take anywhere from 5 seconds to longer than 2 minutes.

3. Do not consume water that has sat in your home’s plumbing for more than six hours.

4. Use a filter that NSF International has certified to reduce lead levels

5. Periodically, remove and clean the strainer/aerator device on your faucet to remove debris.

6. Get your water tested: The only way to truly know if water contains lead is to send it out to a lab. You can also ask your local water company for lead test results.

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