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Senator Ben Cardin wants the EPA to take the lead when it comes to testing communities’ water. (Courtesy Photo)

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan – where brown, lead-contaminated water caused city-wide illness – municipalities across the country have united to demand Congressional oversight to ensure the safety of the nation’s water supply, as well as integrity in testing and emergency response to potential dangers.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is expected to head a congressional delegation to Flint in March to gather information about the city’s tainted water supply, noting similarities between the crisis there and a similar one in the District 10 years ago. On Feb. 25 Holmes asked executives at the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority to provide information about how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and D.C. Water test for lead in the water supply.

“Although Flint’s issues may be more severe, there are parallels between D.C.’s water contamination problems in the early 2000s and Flint’s water crisis today, not least of which is the need for added phosphates to prevent corrosion of lead pipes,” Holmes said in a statement. “Given testimony at the Flint water hearing that the accuracy of some tests are compromised due to ‘pre-flushing’ the water to reduce the levels of lead, I would especially like to know how DC Water and the Army Corps ensure that the test results are precise.”

Roughly 10 million American homes and buildings get water from service lines that are at least partly made of lead, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Federal law requires public water systems to treat the water to avoid corroded pipes, but treatment mistakes in any locale with lead pipes could cause a Flint-style crisis.

Symptoms of lead poisoning can range from high blood pressure to constipation and underdevelopment in children.

A legislation package crafted in the U.S. Senate by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D), contains the Get the Lead Out, Clear, Test Kids and Fund Water act, which is designed to encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to step in and notify the public if local water authorities are dropping the ball. Additionally it provides $100 million in subsidized loans for states in the event of a Flint-like emergency, and $70 million in credit subsidies for states to get loans to help pay for water infrastructure upgrades, such as replacing lead pipes. The bills would also toughen monitoring of water lead levels and the regulations triggering lead pipe removal. There is no similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives at this time.

“Americans have a right to expect that water coming from their taps is safe to drink. We can no longer delay needed upgrades to our infrastructure, strengthening drinking water protections, and forever getting lead and other contaminants out of public water supplies,” said Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement. “Clean water is one of the most basic foundations of our daily lives – we ignore its safe storage and delivery at our own peril. Unfortunately, for too long we have overlooked the need to invest in this key aspect of our future, and children in communities like Flint are the ones being made to suffer most.”