Anne Arundel resumes lead testing at more than a dozen schools

Lauren Lumpkin
Contact Reporterllumpkin@capgaznews.com

The county school district has tested water outlets for lead in 14 more schools, as of Thursday, since classes resumed in September.

School officials expect to finish testing by July 1, 2019. The district tested 33 schools in the spring; 19 of those schools had water outlets that tested positive for lead.

The results for 14 of the most recently tested buildings — Annapolis, Eastport, Georgetown East, Germantown, Hillsmere, Mills-Parole, Rolling Knolls, Tyler Heights and West Annapolis elementary schools; Mary Moss at J. Albert Adams Academy; Maryland Hall for the Creative arts; Monarch Annapolis; Phoenix Academy; and Studio 39 — have not been published yet. Test results are typically available after four to six weeks.

“We have a concern as a school system,” said Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent George Arlotto at the Sept. 26 school board meeting, where several community members used public comment time to talk about lead. “But it’s not showing any widespread, it is single outlets or faucets at sinks in particular areas around buildings.”

Any amount of lead is considered unsafe by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends water be shut off at any faucet where lead levels exceed 20 parts per billion.

The county has only made a dent in its efforts to test its more than 120 schools. The district has opted to split the buildings that have not been tested yet into four groups: Areas 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Area 1 schools, located in northern and eastern Anne Arundel County, were tested in the spring. Officials are testing water outlets at Area 4 schools, in Annapolis and south county, this fall.

“We started in the northern and eastern parts of the county; those are most of our older buildings,” said Bob Mosier, a spokesperson for Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

The schools in Annapolis and south county are farthest from the district’s contracted testing lab in Baltimore. They are being tested now to avoid transporting samples during the winter, Mosier said.

South county is also home to older buildings, like Tyler Heights and Eastport elementary schools.

Area 3 schools in the central part of the county will undergo testing next. Schools in the western area of the county, known as Area 2, are scheduled last. Mosier said this is because of Fort Meade and potential access issues in that region of the county.

Still, some county residents expressed concerns about water safety and the speed at which outlets are being tested during the Sept. 26 meeting.

Erin Snell, president of Hillsmere Elementary’s PTA, said although the number of outlets that tested positive for lead is relatively small — about one percent of outlets tested had traces of lead — Anne Arundel County residents should still be concerned.

“I know there aren’t that many, but it is still scary,” Snell said. “We’ve been helping send messages home to parents to make sure kids have water bottles that they’re bringing to school."

Snell said her PTA is working with Hillsmere’s principal to bring water coolers, which were left behind in the school’s old portable classrooms, into the main building.

Mosier said the school will not supply any more water for the building; purchasing will be left up to the PTA.

Similar efforts are happening at Eastport, where the PTA worked with a local donor to provide each student with a reusable water bottle.

“I have two kids at the school and a son that just graduated,” said Jessica Pachler, a member of the Eastport Elementary School PTA. “I’m concerned about lead in the water.”

Pachler said her PTA also rented two water coolers for the building and will purchase jugs of water throughout the school year.

“Even once the water situation is figured out, we’re excited to have (water bottles),” Pachler said.

While the school district’s testing timeline satisfies state law, families across the county are eager to have their schools tested.

In an effort to expedite testing, Arlotto said the district will no longer test non-consumable outlets, like outdoor hoses, for lead. Instead officials will focus on outlets that are used for drinking, like water fountains and kitchen sinks.

Arolotto, in a letter sent to families, also said administrators are considering working with another lab to help with the workload.

The testing timeline could be even longer for schools like Glen Burnie High School. The school was tested in the spring and was among the most lead-tainted with 71 affected outlets. Six of those outlets were used for drinking.

Glen Burnie and other schools that tested positive for lead will be retested until consumable water outlets pass health standards. Retests will occur after all other schools undergo testing first.

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