Saturday, March 20, 2004

Experts Quarrel over Tests re Lead in D.C. Drinking Water

Controversy over lead in the water supply of our nation's capital continues to roil. Yesterday's Washington Post reports on disagreements among experts about the significance of blood test results in city children. The results for children under six are showing blood levels 47% higher than the national average for their age group. The city's interim chief medical officer says the results show an absence of massive lead toxicity, and believes that alternative testing measures are unnecessary. But outside experts are saying that such elevated blood levels cannot be considered safe, and are calling for further testing to assess the scope of the problem. Dr. John F. Rosen, who heads up the lead program at the Montefiore Medical Center of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is quoted as follows:

It doesn't look to me as if there is a systematic approach to protecting children. There's no doubt that lead-based paint has the highest concentrations of lead, but that does not negate the importance of dealing with excessive exposure of lead to children from D.C.'s drinking water. It contributes to . . . the amount of lead in the children's body, which has the potential of damaging their brain forever.
The city's health officer responds:

There will be people who will never consider the data definitive or sufficient to totally allay concerns, but in the real world you do the very best you can. There's a problem with lead in the water, and it has to be fixed, but that clearly hasn't had an adverse effect we can demonstrate on blood lead levels at this time.
No doubt it's possible that some critics will never be satisfied. But a 47% elevation sure sounds like an adverse effect. And as experts on lead exposure go, Dr. Rosen isn't chopped liver.
Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.