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New round of mandated lead testing finds elevated levels in six Howard County schools, bringing total to 18

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

The latest round of testing for lead in water at Howard County public schools found levels exceeding federal standards in six buildings — bringing the total to 18 schools where lead has been found since the start of a state-mandated review.

Jurisdictions across Maryland are being required to test for lead under a law passed last year. By 2020, all 77 Howard County school facilities will be tested for lead.

Twenty-nine county schools were tested between September and December, and lead levels exceeding federal health standards were detected in water from some fixtures in 18 overall, according to the school system’s test results.

Cafeteria sinks, drinking fountains, ice machines and any other outlets that dispense cooking or drinking water are sampled. If elevated levels of lead are detected, the water fountain or faucet is shut off until repairs are completed.

In the latest round of sampling at 13 public schools, elevated levels were detected in various sinks and fountains at Harpers Choice Middle School and Waterloo Elementary School in Columbia; Centennial High and Manor Woods Elementary in Ellicott City; Glenelg High School in Glenelg; and Hammond Middle School in Laurel.

The tests were completed between Nov. 3 and Dec. 22.

The samples testing positive for lead showed readings in a range between 20 parts per billion — which is the federal threshold — and 78.3 parts per billion, according to school data.

Brian Bassett, a county schools spokesman, noted that the school system is posting the results in a “transparent manner” on its website,

“It’s an ongoing process [as we] continue to test all the schools,” Bassett said.

Of those recently tested, Glenelg High and Manor Woods and Waterloo elementary schools each had a single sample that exceeded the federal level; Hammond Middle had two; Harpers Choice Middle had four; and Centennial High had the most with 10 out of 58 outlets tested.

Samples from the other seven schools tested — Worthington, Bellows Spring and Ilchester elementary schools in Ellicott City, Cedar Lane School in Fulton, Running Brook and Bryant Woods elementary schools in Columbia and West Friendship Elementary — showed no levels above the federal standard.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and federal health agencies have said that lead exposure can cause behavioral and physical problems, including a lower IQ, slow growth in a child and hyperactivity.

Under the new state law, samples must be taken once every three years and be conducted when school is in session.

Sixteen additional Howard County schools were sampled from September from November. Elevated levels were detected in 12 of those schools, including Clemens Crossing, Talbott Springs and Jeffers Hill elementary schools, Oakland Mills Middle and Hammond and Oakland Mills high schools, all in Columbia; St. John’s Lane Elementary and Dunloggin and Patapsco middle schools in Ellicott City; and three Clarksville schools, Pointers Run and Clarksville elementary schools and Clarksville Middle School.

In that round, no samples were found to exceed the federal threshold at Glenwood Middle in Glenwood, or at Cradlerock Middle School, Atholton or Stevens Forest elementary schools in Columbia.

Officials say the last time the water at all Howard County schools was tested was in 1989.

All elementary and any middle or high schools constructed before 1988 will be tested by the end of June, according to the school system schedule. Any middle school built during or after 1988 and all remaining schools will be tested during the 2019-2020 school year.

All eight county schools with well water will also be tested.

Sampling is also being conducted in other jurisdictions. For example, last spring Anne Arundel County school officials tested 33 schools and found 19 had water outlets that tested positive for lead. And in Baltimore County, the first round of testing there in the fall revealed elevated lead levels in water samples in 12 of 19 elementary schools that were tested.

Other jurisdictions have established schedules in the coming year to satisfy the state requirement.

Reporters Libby Solomon and Lauren Lumpkin contributed to this article.

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