Wednesday, February 04, 2004

DC Water Agency Manager Fired for Revealing Lead Threat

Last week the Washington D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) revealed that it had known since 2002 that thousands of D.C. residents were drinking water that contained lead levels far above EPA standards.

Now it has been revealed that WASA fired a manager who had warned the agency and EPA of the lead contamination.
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority fired a high-ranking manager last year who had repeatedly warned top agency officials and federal authorities of lead contamination in the city's tap water before tests last summer revealed that the lead exceeded federal limits in thousands of homes.

Seema S. Bhat was WASA's water quality manager from 1999 until she was fired in March after her bosses decided that she had too often reported lead problems directly to the Environmental Protection Agency. A federal investigator who reviewed the matter last summer ruled that Bhat was improperly terminated and ordered WASA to rehire her and pay her damages. WASA has appealed and the case is in litigation.

In an interview yesterday, Bhat and her attorney, Brian J. Schwartz, said WASA officials constantly reprimanded her for raising the issue of lead contamination with the EPA -- even after it was clear that the city would exceed a federal guideline.

Bhat said she was keeping the EPA informed because she wanted WASA to launch an aggressive campaign to replace lead service lines and inform the public of the problems. Instead, she said, her superiors told her to be more patient and enrolled her in a training course designed to teach her to respect the chain of command.

"I had to deal against the whole bureaucracy," said Bhat, 57, who lives in Columbia. "I was all alone."