Health chief threatens to fine schools if drinking fountains aren't shut down


City Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said he will fine at least 21 elementary schools Monday unless they have followed his order to shut down all drinking fountains and replace them with water coolers.

Beilenson and his staff inspected 24 elementary schools yesterday and found three - Bentalou, Frederick and Highlandtown - that were in full compliance with a Feb. 26 Health Department order.

Most schools were found to have the required number of bottled water coolers, he said - 1 per 100 students. But 77 drinking fountains in 15 schools were in operation, which Beilenson said he found "hard to believe."

In addition, many schools did not post proper signs at sinks, labeling them for hand-washing only, he said.

Yesterday was the deadline for compliance.

School officials had said last month that action would be taken to ensure that pupils weren't drinking lead-contaminated water more than a decade after tainted fountains were ordered turned off.

Starting Monday, Beilenson said, schools that are not in full compliance will be assessed a fine of $100 each day.

School system Chief Operating Officer Mark Smolarz said he had not seen a list of which schools were found to be noncompliant and why. Smolarz said Beilenson promised to give his office a report Monday morning.

"I need to understand from him exactly what he has found," Smolarz said, particularly because school officials have been inspecting schools all week and found them in compliance.

"We did not have any such indication of what Beilenson says he has found," Smolarz said.

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