County Looks To Tighten Limits for Lead in School Drinking Water

County Looks To Tighten Limits for Lead in School Drinking Water

Council legislation follows mandatory testing that found excessive lead levels

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The Montgomery County Council wants to adopt a standard for lead in school drinking water that is stricter than federal health and safety guidelines.

A review last year that found 86 of 208 county schools had elevated lead levels in drinking water that exceeded the limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A bill sponsored by District 5 Council member Tom Hucker, who represents Silver Spring, would set the new requirement for lead in drinking water at 5 parts per billion. The EPA has set the limit at 15 ppb, and a 2017 state law requires that schools fix or shut down any fountain or sink that dispenses drinking water that exceeds the limit.

Exposure to lead can lead to headaches, memory loss and abdominal pain in the short term, and more serious symptoms such as depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Following the results of last year’s school testing, the school system fixed 97 percent of its drinking water outlets that were found to be out of compliance at a cost of $150,000. In total, 23 schools disclosed initial test results of at least one fixture with readings of 100 parts per billion or more. Schools spent $540,000 for mandatory testing.

School system spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala expressed support for the proposal.

“MCPS is looking closely at setting an action level below the EPA and State level of 20 ppb. It is also important to note that the effort to address lead in our community must be in schools and in homes. We encourage families to test the lead levels of the fixtures in their homes to ensure they are safe as well,” she wrote in an email.

This story was updated to correct a previous version that misstated the EPA lead limit as 20 ppb. The correct figure is 15 ppb. 

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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