Drinking Water Lead Remediation Expected To Cost $9 million

Drinking Water Lead Remediation Expected To Cost $9 million

County looks at state funding for repairs

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Repairing or replacing more than 1,300 public school water fixtures that had high levels of lead will cost $2.5 million this year and require an additional $1.1 million a year for maintenance over the next six years, the county’s budget director estimates.

The fixtures – from drinking fountains to sinks – would have to be repaired or replaced to meet a proposal that would not allow lead levels to exceed 5 parts per billion.

County Council member Tom Hucker introduced a bill in February that calls for the stricter standard following a report last year that there were elevated levels of lead in water at 86 of 208 schools.

The Environmental Protection Agency set 20 parts per billion as the suggested level for which remediation should occur in schools in 2006, although technically no amount of lead is safe to consume and states may set their own level at their discretion, the agency states. Under the EPA’s 3T’s guideance —training, testing and taking action— it recommends testing in schools where that level of lead exists due to the fact that children are vulnerable to experiencing brain defects from exposure. MCPS’s test results, as of March 1, indicated that 1.8 % of drinking facilities in the school system contained lead above the 20 parts per billion limit.

Budget Director Rich Madaleno said money hasn’t been set aside either in County Executive Marc Elrich’s fiscal 2020 operating budget or the six-year capital improvements budget.

Where the money comes from, Madaleno said, will depend on how much money for education the state legislature sets aside for Montgomery County.

“We will know what level of state aid we are getting for operating and capital, which gives the executive and the council the opportunity to say, ‘OK, we made these plans with this level of support. We’re getting this level of support, plus. So what do we want to accomplish?’” he said.

Council member Gabe Albornoz, who chairs the council’s Health and Human Services Committee said he is confident that the council will find money in the budget for the lead remediation.

In addition to the schools, Hucker has said the bill also will seek to implement remediation of fountains and other “drinking water facilities” at county recreation centers, libraries and other buildings where lead contamination might still be a problem.

Albornoz said that one such facility is the Holiday Park Senior Center in Wheaton, which used to be a school. Albornoz, formerly the county’s recreation director, said he didn’t believe the residents at the center would be at risk for lead poisoning.

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

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