Drinking Water Tests Show Heightened Lead Levels at Schools in Silver Spring, Gaithersburg

MCPS is conducting a systemwide analysis of lead in water


Published:

VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Elevated lead levels have shown up in water samples taken from four public elementary schools and a middle school in Montgomery County, according to reports released this week.

Montgomery County Public Schools has undertaken a comprehensive analysis of drinking water across its 205 schools, and data from the first batch of lead testing is now available.

Of the 14 schools checked so far, lead concentrations exceeding state standards turned up in five locations: Gaithersburg, Summit Hall, New Hampshire Estates and Pine Crest elementary schools and Eastern Middle School.

Water from a faucet at Eastern Middle in Silver Spring had a lead concentration of about 65 parts per billion, more than three times the recommended limit. Testing at two Gaithersburg Elementary drinking fountains showed lead levels of 83.6 and 253 parts per billion.

Even at these five schools, water from most of the faucets and fountains met U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. The Eastern Middle water stations with higher lead levels will be taken out of commission until the problem is addressed, its principal wrote in a letter to parents. MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said any schools with levels above the EPA guidelines would receive remediation.

Laura Stewart, a parent advocate who has been following the issue, said she appreciates that the school system is taking action to analyze the water students are drinking.

“They are reporting this to parents, and that’s good. We really appreciate that, but now, we just need to make sure that all [parents’] questions are being answered and we’re having the best protocols, especially for younger children,” said Stewart, a leader in the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.

Matt Johnson, principal at Eastern Middle, explained in a Wednesday letter to parents that four of the school’s drinking water outlets had heightened lead levels and would be tested again.

“After retesting, the next step is the development and implementation of a remediation plan based on the test results. The typical measures include replacement, permanent removal, or the installation of a filtration system,” he wrote.

MCPS launched the countywide testing initiative after last year’s passage of a state bill that directed public and private schools across Maryland to check lead levels by July 1. The legislation asks the state’s department of environment to develop regulations for periodic water testing at schools and outline the actions required if elevated lead levels are found. 

Before the bill’s passage, the state had no requirement for checking schools for lead in drinking water, and it has been more than a decade since MCPS last conducted a systemwide analysis, according to a legislative report.

School water quality has also been an issue elsewhere in the state. In 2007, the Baltimore school system shut down drinking fountains across its schools because of concerns over widespread lead contamination.

EPA guidelines recommend that schools stop using fountains or faucets that show lead concentrations above 20 parts per billion. However, the Centers for Disease Control has said there is no safe level of lead exposure. Young children are particularly vulnerable, and even low levels of lead in the blood can affect IQ, ability to concentrate and academic performance, according to the CDC. 

Because of these serious consequences, Stewart said she’d like MCPS to follow the example of Seattle Public Schools, which has set its lead threshold at 10 parts per billion.

Still, Stewart credits MCPS for starting its systemwide analysis and for posting its testing results online, even for schools that were in the clear.

Reports for Gaithersburg and Summit Hall elementary schools in Gaithersburg, New Hampshire Estates and Pine Crest elementary schools in Silver Spring and Eastern Middle are available online.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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