An independent study to be published in an upcoming issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmen-tal Science and Technology has found dangerously high lead levels in more than 42,000 fetuses and infants in the D.C. area.

The high lead levels are likely due to the District’s 2001-2004 public water crisis during which a change in the water treatment system caused an increase in the levels of lead in public drinking water due to aging pipes made of the toxic metal, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. The study measured the amount of lead in children’s blood tests from 2001 to 2007 in an attempt to better understand the impact of the water crisis.

High lead levels at an early age can lead to motor impairment and reduced cognitive abilities, including IQ loss of 3 to 7 points, aggressive behavior and learning disabilities, including an inability to focus in school, which are often permanent, The Post stated. Unborn children and children younger than two years old are most likely to be negatively affected by lead exposure. According to the study, the increase in lead levels may have irreversibly damaged many D.C. children.

The study found that the amount of children with dangerously high lead concentrations doubled from 2001 to 2003.

Beginning in 2001, D.C. public officials may have taken steps to cover up information regarding the increased levels of lead, according to The Post. Agencies such as the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and the D.C. Department of Health said at the time that there was no evidence that city residents’ health had been affected.

But independent researchers found evidence of faulty investigation standards, including imprecise methods for measuring the amount of lead in private homes according to The Post.

“WASA officials spotted the rising lead in 2001 but concealed it from authorities, a federal investigation found,” reported The Post.

The District was eventually pressured by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to solve the problem by replacing old lead pipes with copper.

During a public Internet discussion held by The Post, Marc Edwards, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech who co-authored the study, said, “The sad reality is that existing regulations would have prevented [the higher incidences of lead]. Had D.C. WASA not illegally invalidated (i.e., hid) samples with high lead in 2001, and/or if they had notified the public, the serious harm could have been avoided.”

In response to the findings, D.C. Council officials announced Tuesday that they have asked the city’s inspector general to investigate the claims.

“Specifically, we want to know if there is a correlation between elevated lead levels and lead-poisoned children, and if so, whether District authorities negligently or intentionally misled the public,” council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 4) wrote to Inspector General Charles Willoughby, according to The Post.

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority assured residents in a Wednesday press release that drinking water in the District is now safe for consumption.

“I want to assure the public that District drinking water is safe and meets or exceeds every federal standard and compares favorably with drinking water in other major cities. We will continue to deliver the highest quality water to you and your children. Providing safe drinking water is D.C. WASA’s highest priority, and we take that job very seriously,” D.C. WASA General Manager Jerry Johnson said in a Wednesday press release. “We will cooperate with independent experts in the field of public health and safety to understand the facts and findings of a new study that reportedly contradict studies previously conducted by the District Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control regarding blood lead levels in young children.”

However, Edwards warns that the overall safety of D.C. water is still not yet clear, though he admits that the risks are low. He and D.C. WASA recommend that District residents allow water to flow for at least 2 minutes before drinking it if their faucets have been off for more than a few hours and that residents use water filters, such as Brita.

The area around Georgetown was not significantly affected, and university officials have said that the water on campus is safe to drink.

“We have been in touch with public health officials about the most recent reports and confirmed that there is no reason to believe there are any issues on or near Georgetown’s campus at this time,” University Spokesperson Julie Bataille said. “Georgetown regularly monitors a range of environmental health and safety issues on campus, including lead levels, and takes corrective actions when results determine that is appropriate.”

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