State-mandated testing finds lead in water at two dozen local schools; Baltimore, Howard counties will test this year

Water at two dozen schools across the Baltimore region was found to contain elevated levels of lead during tests mandated by a new state law.

But schools in Baltimore and Howard counties won’t be tested until the coming school year — theirs are among 618 schools across the state where administrators have asked for more time to conduct the testing, state officials said.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of lead exposure, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends water be shut off at any faucet where lead levels exceed 20 parts per billion.

At least some water fountains and sinks in 19 schools in Anne Arundel County, three in Harford County and two in Baltimore City surpassed that threshold.

That included 71 water outlets at Glen Burnie High School, for example, though only two of those spigots were regularly used for drinking, Anne Arundel schools spokesman Bob Mosier said.

“It’s very alarming to hear about the test results, and it shows the importance of immediate reaction,” said state Del. Mark Chang, a Democrat from Glen Burnie. “It needs to be addressed.”

The testing was required to be done by July 1 under legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly last year.

In Harford County, elevated lead levels were found in some water sources at two public schools — William Paca Elementary and Old Post Road Elementary, schools on the same campus on Philadelphia Road in Abingdon — and at one private school, John Carroll School in Bel Air.

The state law requires lead to be remediated. School officials around the region said they would replace any water fountains or sinks with high levels of lead, or post signs warning students and staff not to drink from them.

“If any test results reflect an actionable lead level, immediate action will be taken,” said Harford County Public Schools spokeswoman Jillian Lader.

In Baltimore City, all but 19 schools already receive their potable water only through bottles and jugs. The city school system tested water outlets at 13 of those schools — results for the other six, all newly constructed or renovated buildings, are pending — and found unsafe lead levels in some sinks at two of them, Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School and Leith Walk Elementary/Middle School.

But after flushing those schools’ water systems and re-testing, no elevated lead levels were found, system officials said.

City schools administrators are still in the process of testing filtration systems at a handful of other Baltimore public schools, in hopes of eventually making water drinkable again systemwide. They plan to consider whether to expand that pilot program to more schools at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, spokeswoman Anne Fullerton said.

Carroll County school officials have asked state regulators for a waiver from the testing requirements, saying they proactively tested schools for lead in 2016.

Lead testing is set to begin this fall in schools in Baltimore and Howard counties. Administrators in both school districts said they received permission from state officials for more time to complete the testing.

Howard County schools spokesman Brian Bassett said the district needed more time to prepare for testing requirements. Brandon Oland, a spokesman for Baltimore County schools, said testing is expected to be completed in the spring. “We will report results then,” he said.

The Maryland Department of the Environment approved such delays at 476 public schools, 136 private schools and six charter schools across the state, spokesman Jay Apperson said. To be granted a delay, administrators had to show they had plans in place to test all drinking water outlets and to take action if elevated levels of lead are found.

Schools had relatively little time to complete the testing this year — program regulations did not become final until April, and the law requires testing be conducted while school is in session.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Alexander Pyles, Erika Butler, Jess Nocera, Wayne Carter and Libby Solomon contributed to this article.

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