Howard schools to test for lead in drinking water next month

Howard schools to test for lead in drinking water next month
Water from school fountains and other taps is required to be tested for lead. (Baltimore Sun file)

In September, the Howard County school system will begin testing for lead in school drinking water, eventually taking samples from all 77 schools in the district, as mandated by a new state law.

At least 61 Howard schools will be tested during the 2018-2019 academic year that starts Sept. 4, according to Brian Bassett county schools spokesman.


“We have not yet sampled for lead under this current law,” Bassett said in an email. “This will start this school year.”

In the past two years, drinking fountain water has been tested at seven schools after renovation or new construction projects. No lead was found in samples.

The school system will test drinking foundations, cafeteria sinks, ice machines and any other water outlets that are intended to dispense cooking or drinking water, according to the school system’s website. If a water outlet exceeds a lead level of 20 parts per billion, the water must be shut off.

According to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency “there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood.” Exposure to lead can cause physical and behavioral problems, including slow growth, hyperactivity and lower IQ.

According to the state environmental department, the testing needs to occur once every three years and be conducted when school is in session.

All schools built before 1988 were required to have been tested by July 1. However, school systems were allowed to ask for more time.

The Howard County school system submitted a waiver request last year and it was approved, according to Bassett. The school system opted for the waiver to allow more time to prepare for the testing requirements, which include surveying the schools, creating a data management system and fixture inventory and preparing for the upcoming school year, according to Bassett.

The school system plans to gather samples through a three-tiered system between 2018 and 2020.

Sampling in the first group, or tier, which includes all elementary, middle and high schools constructed before 1988, is expected to be completed during the upcoming school year. At the same time, testing will begin for middle schools constructed during or after 1988. The remaining schools will be tested during the 2019-2020 school session.

“To adhere to the new state requirements we have established a plan that will complete testing of drinking water outlets at every school in Howard County over the next two to three years,” Christopher Madden, indoor environmental quality manager for the school system, said in a statement.

Schools using well water are not required by the state to be tested, but the school system is including them in testing. Eight schools in the county have wells, according to Bassett.

“As best practice, HCPSS has tested water fountains for lead after a school is renovated or after a new school is built,” Madden said in a statement.

In the past two years, seven schools were tested for lead and none was detected.


In June, water samples were taken from Glenelg High School and Lisbon Elementary School and in June 2016, Bushy Park Elementary, Glenwood Middle, Dayton Oaks Elementary, Triadelphia Ridge Elementary and West Friendship Elementary schools were tested.