As someone who has attended five schools across the county, I’ve been more than aware of the sometimes discolored or unsavory-tasting water running in the pipes of our schools. These issues are fixed on a case-by-case basis, but it still leaves me with a distrust toward school water fountains.
Since then, there have been attempts to make changes, such as lowering the acceptable lead level to 5 parts per billion, which raised our grade to a C in 2018. However, there is no doubt that we have more work to do.
This has led to the recent passing of House Bill 636/Senate Bill 546, requiring every school in Maryland to test its sources of water consumption by Aug. 1, 2022. If the source has more than 5 parts per billion of lead contamination, it will be subject to mitigation and/or removal.
Without estimates on how much this will cost, it brings into question whether this funding could be used for a more reliable hydration source.
Water fountains are perfect places for germs and other contaminants to spread. So, with MCPS’s plans to return to our five-day schedule in the fall, it is vital that we try to mitigate anything that could spread COVID-19.
Students are encouraged to bring water bottles to school, but what happens when the bottle runs out? We need to make sure students are hydrated without posing a risk to students with immune system deficiencies and kids who can’t be vaccinated yet.
The most practical way is to install two water bottle filling stations in every school across the county.
This plan may seem costly with its estimated $1.2 million price tag, but a child’s health is priceless and more than worth investing in.
Also, the stations are purposefully designed to prevent the build-up of grime in still water, doing away with the risk of bacteria and mold ending up in our pipes. School water fountains require consistent maintenance, but hydration stations require next to none to ensure they´re safe for students.
Additionally, these stations would result in massive savings for the county. Montgomery County currently spends more than $415,000 on plastic water bottles to serve during lunch, but 80 percent could end up in landfills and around our watershed. The stations would pay for themselves in just three years.
Furthermore, these hydration stations are acceptable uses of MCPS education-related COVID-19 relief funds, as discussed at a Board of Education budget work session, drastically reducing the aforementioned cost.
With these stations, students will have sustainable practices instilled in them at the elementary school level and maintain these practices throughout their educational career with MCPS.
As we sit on the Potomac River, we must prioritize environmental health. We feed directly into the Chesapeake Bay and we need to be doing more to protect it. Doing something as simple as switching from plastic bottles and poorly regulated water to water filling stations is a great way to start.
Switching to water bottle filling stations would result in budget savings for MCPS, increase the health of students, and promote sustainable practices. The time for action is now.
Brianna Akuamoah-Boateng is a freshman at Poolesville High School in the Global Ecology Program and a member of the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association’s Environmental Affairs Task Force.
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