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Report: Cities Fudge Lead Tests

Several cities have manipulated test data to conceal results showing high levels of lead in drinking water, a newspaper reports.

The Washington Post says Philadelphia, Boston and New York City are among those that threw out test results or changed the scope of their testing to keep their reported lead levels within legal limits.

State officials and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have allowed local water authorities to publicize misleading test data, the newspaper reports.

The Post's investigation of 65 major water system comes months after Washington, D.C. residents learned that officials have for months concealed reports showing that lead levels in the local water exceeded safe limits.

Lead is dangerous because it can lower IQs in children and affect kidneys in kids and adults.

Among the Post's findings:

  • The EPA ordered water providers to remedy problems in 14 cases in 2003 — less than one-tenth of the number in 1997. While EPA records show that since 2000, 274 utilities serving 11.5 million people have reported unsafe lead levels, lead has never been identified as a national pollution priority since the EPA began listing those priorities in 1996.
  • Washington, D.C. utilities officials learned in 2001 of unsafe lead levels, but concealed six test results and dropped from their testing half of the homes that had shown high lead levels.
  • Utilities are supposed to test high-risk homes — those with old plumbing — for lead. But one in four homes tested in Boston were not high-risk. Detroit also violated this requirement.
  • New York City withheld 300 test results that would have pushed the city over the legal limit.
  • Philadelphia did not produce required documentation explaining why they had discarded a high lead test result in 2002. Ridgewood, N.J. also threw out several high results in 2001.

    The cities cited in the Post report denied any deliberate effort to mislead citizens or regulators.

    EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Benjamin H. Grumbles, in testimony to Congress this summer, said, "We have not identified a systemic problem," in water systems.

    But former EPA official Jim Elder told the Post: "Apparently, it's a real crapshoot as to what's going to come out of the tap and whether it will be healthy or not."

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