In February 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was asked to assess the effects of elevated lead levels in tap water on Washington, D.C., residents. In April 2004, CDC published the results. However, an inaccurate statement and incomplete descriptions of the limitations of the analyses resulted in confusion about CDC's intended message. GAO was asked to examine (1) CDC's actions to clarify its published results and communicate current knowledge about the contribution of lead in tap water to elevated blood lead levels (BLL) in children and (2) CDC's changes to its procedures to improve the clarity of the information in its public health communications. GAO reviewed CDC communication policies and procedures and interviewed CDC officials.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention||To clarify confusion about the contribution of lead in tap water to elevated BLLs, the Director of CDC should publish an article in an MMWR Recommendations and Reports that conveys what is known and not known about tap water as a source of lead exposure and communicates the potential health effects in children of elevated lead levels in water in consultation with EPA, as appropriate.|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention||To improve the clarity of CDC's published information on public health issues, the Director of CDC should develop procedures to review previously published information and determine whether additional information should be published to help ensure the correct understanding of the public health message. The procedures could include criteria to use when deciding how to respond in certain situations, such as the event in the District, in which (1) CDC learns of confusion about the public health message and determines that clarification or additional information should be published; or (2) CDC issues or releases a product in an expedited time frame or based on uncertain or incomplete information and determines additional information should be published to clarify the original public health message, even if there is no evidence of confusion.|