An investigation by the House Science Committee found that the CDC claimed high lead levels in DC's water didn't pose a threat desipte knowing the data was flawed.
A House investigative subcommittee concludes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made "scientifically indefensible" claims in 2004 that high lead in the water was not causing any noticeable harm to the health of city residents. The CDC hurriedly published its analysis though officials knew the research relied on incomplete and misleading blood test results that played down the health impact, the investigation found.
A full report is due to be released tomorrow--and from what this WaPo article indicates, it's going to be absolutely scathing. It found that in its effort to calm the fears of DC and NoVa residents about high levels of lead in their water dating back to at least 2002, the CDC abdicated its duty to protect the public.
The investigation was spurred by reports in numerous scientific journals that there was a lot of data missing from the 2004 CDC report. Additionally, a 2009 WaPo investigation found that a similar report from the National Institutes of Health might have been rubberstamped by the DC Water and Sewer Authority. That missing data, according to the Science Committee, showed that the amount of lead in the water did indeed pose harm to children.
The House committee went back to recover thousands of missing blood tests, when the city's water lead levels were the highest, in 2002 and 2003. It found the number of D.C. children who suffered lead poisoning had spiked -- not fallen or remained stagnant as the CDC first said -- during the years when lead levels were highest in the city's water supply.
The missing data showed that over 950 children--three times the number originally reported--had lead poisoning.
Moreover, the CDC didn't retract this paper even after a more thorough 2007 study found the amount of lead in DC's water posed a definite health risk. The 2007 report has yet to be published, supposedly because of "data quality" issues.
The committee is particularly hard on the paper's lead author, Mary Jean Brown, who heads the CDC's lead-poisoning unit.
In the wake of the lead revelations in the District, she worked with D.C. Health Department officials to marshal facts, review blood test results of city residents and frame CDC's response to the problem. After a compressed several-week research process, Brown led a team in publishing the conclusion that the lead problem wasn't having a serious health impact.
Brown summarized the paper's "main message" this way: "There is no indication that DC residents have blood lead levels above the CDC levels of concern . . . as a result of lead in the water."
However, the Science Committee found that Brown knew all along that this conclusion was counterintuitive, and also knew data was missing. She also knew that most of the test subjects had been drinking bottled water for several weeks before their blood was analyzed.
All told, the CDC has a lot of explaining and apologizing to do.