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Archive for Thursday, June 11, 1992

MATTER OF DISCLOSURE

June 11, 1992

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Lawrence city officials let a golden opportunity for fast, effective and full community service slip through their grasp Wednesday.

The opportunity came and went when city officials announced test results on lead levels in water drawn from taps in selected homes in the city. The tests, required by the Environmental Protection Agency, showed that in eight of 60 homes tested, the lead level was greater than acceptable under new federal standards. High concentrations of lead can cause serious health problems in humans.

The city's utilities department, which reported the results, said the highest reading measured was 676 parts of lead per billion more than 45 times the allowable limit.

The department also reported that each of the eight houses in which the lead levels exceeded the federal standard was built between 1983 and 1988, and all but one were located west of U.S. Highway 59.

That, however, was where the city held the line on giving out information.

Citing an exemption in the Kansas Open Records Act allowing certain utility records be closed to the public, the city refused to identify the addresses at which the high lead levels were measured.

Never mind that the survey results were not specifically the utility's records; forget that the city already notified the owners of the houses that tested above the limit.

A more important issue is that between 1983 and 1988, the city issued in the neighborhood of 1,300 building permits for new single-family residences. Which of those 1,300, if any, were built by the same firm and used the same plumbing materials as the eight houses that tested at unacceptable levels?

The city doesn't want to let its residents know.

Instead of serving the public by disseminating the information, the city chose to seal the records and let thousands of residents wonder whether water drawn from taps in their homes has harmful lead levels.

The episode comes despite the Lawrence City Commission's repeated goal for the city to increase its notification efforts.

At its best, withholding the information is questionable. At its worst, it could cause local residents undue concern. Whatever the case, it is bad government and officials should recognize that the city is in business for the public.

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