Baltimore County school board sets tighter standards for lead levels in drinking water

The Baltimore County Public School Board unanimously passed a motion Oct. 8 to shut off drinking water sources that have tested for lead above 5 parts per billion, a level that’s more stringent than state and federal standards.

But school system staff said the school board acted on its own, so it does not have a plan for how and when to implement the new standards.


Pradeep “Pete” Dixit, the executive director of facilities management for Baltimore County Public Schools, said the department’s focus is on continuing efforts to bring school water sources that tested for elevated lead levels into compliance with the state-mandated action level of 20 parts per billion.

Out of 6,985 water fountains, sinks, ice machines and other water sources tested at Baltimore County Schools during the 2018-2019 school year, about 5%, or 380 sources, tested above the current state-mandated action level of 20 parts per billion. Those found to have such elevated levels have been disabled, Dixit said.


Drinking faucets that tested for lead between 5 and 20 parts per billion will not be shut off until the school system’s Department of Facilities Management completes its re-sampling and re-testing of water devices found to have high lead content, which is expected to wrap up in April.

The school board’s move follows a law passed this year by the General Assembly that makes state grant funding available for schools actively making an effort to get lead levels below 5 parts per billion.

The Maryland Department of the Environment determined that replacing a water outlet could cost between $600 and $1,500, per the law’s fiscal note.

The EPA’s action level for lead is 15 parts per billion, although it has set what it calls a “non-enforceable” maximum contaminant level goal of zero, given that even low levels of lead pose health risks.

“Lead is known to cause behavioral and learning disabilities, particularly in children more than adults,” said Baltimore County school board member Moalie Jose, who proposed the motion. “There’s no level of lead that’s considered safe.”

Of the sources in Baltimore County that have lead levels exceeding state-accepted standards, 330 have been replaced. The school system expects all the contaminated outlets to be replaced by December this year.

It must re-sample and re-test the systems it’s replaced before they can be reactivated, Dixit said. That process, scheduled to begin this month, isn’t expected to be completed until the end of April.

Shutting off the faucets with lead levels between 5 and 20 parts per billion before the re-testing is complete could impact school operations — hence the delay, said Jose, an engineer who’s worked in water resources.

The facilities department has 50 more fixtures to replace at 15 county schools, but Dixit said the elevated levels are found in schools countywide, not concentrated to one area, despite those with the highest concentrations lying mostly in the northwest and southeast county regions.

Five schools, including Edmondson Heights Elementary School in Woodlawn, had a water source with lead levels “reaching up to” and exceeding 1,000 parts per billion, school board member Makeda Scott noted.

All of those sources, save for a sink at Owings Mills High School, have been replaced, Taylor said.

Local schools by the numbers

Number of sources that tested for elevated lead levels:


Arbutus Elementary: 2

Baltimore Highlands Elementary: 2

Catonsville Alternative: 4

Halethorpe Elementary: 3

Hillcrest Elementary: 4

Johnnycake Elementary: 3

Lansdowne High: 4

Lansdowne Middle: 1

Southwest Academy: 1

Westchester Elementary: 1

Woodbridge Elementary: 5

Woodlawn Middle: 1

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