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Preventing Lead Poisoning from Municipal Water System

Published: June 15, 2010

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Today (June 15, 2010), CDC leaders addressed Congress about questions related to CDC's work in 2004 to help prevent lead poisoning from the Washington, D.C. municipal water system.

The CDC protected the public's health by working closely with the Washington, D.C. Department of Health, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Public Health Service, and other federal and local agencies to help mitigate the problem and prevent additional lead exposures. In our work we determined the health consequences of lead exposures from the contaminated water, and published our findings in the MMWR, reiterating that that there is no safe level of lead exposure, and that all lead exposures in children should be eliminated.

In our urgency to rapidly assess the situation and protect the public's health, the CDC communicated our scientific results poorly and did not convey our conclusions and recommendations clearly. One of CDC's core values is to pursue excellence in the science behind public health. Although we believe in this case that our scientific analysis and conclusions were correct, we did not place our findings into the proper perspective.

For nearly three decades, CDC has spearheaded an effective national lead poisoning prevention campaign that has reduced the prevalence of blood lead levels above 10 µg/dL in children by nearly 90 percent. This is one of our nation's greatest public health success stories.

In Washington, D.C., we have worked to strengthen the city's lead prevention program and ensure that residents are protected. Elevated blood lead levels among the city's children have fallen by half over the past five years and are now lower than the national average and similar to those in other large cities.

CDC is committed to continuing our progress toward childhood lead elimination. The agency will work with partners in the US and internationally to support blood-lead screening for children and testing of water and other sources of potential lead poisoning in homes, workplaces and communities, and implement effective lead-poisoning prevention programs. CDC supports and depends on the work of our scientists and other staff. We are motivated by a desire to protect the public's health and committed to basing our decisions on the best available science and to communicating our results clearly.

Information about CDC's activities related to lead in drinking water in the District of Columbia and prevention tips are posted at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/leadinwater/.

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