Long before the state's environmental secretary pushed for stronger enforcement of the federal Lead Containment Control Act earlier this month, Carroll County schools have engaged in detection and removal of the dangerous substance.
"We've had an extensive testing programfor years," said Ron G. Furbay, assistant in school facilities. "We're constantly monitoring lead levels here."
Concern over lead in drinking fountains, taps and in lead-based paint has caused the federal government to propose higher standards for the removal of lead. Legally, lead can constitute no more than 50 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency wants to changethat standard to 15 parts per billion.
Carroll's students are exposed to lead levels that do not exceed 20 parts per billion, Furbay said.
Furbay said more than 900 water samples have been taken from the county's 30 school buildings over the last two years. Almost 60 water fountains, whose water contained lead levels exceeding 20 parts per billion, have been removed and replaced, Furbay said.
"This isan ongoing concern,and we're always looking at it."
Drinking water is only one of the two main sources of lead -- homes painted with lead-based paint account for the other major source.
Excessive exposure to lead can cause hyperactivity, mental retardation or death. Ingesting even low levels of lead can lead to brain damage and learningand behavioral problems in young children.
At the same time lead abatement efforts are increasing across Maryland, the most recent results of state blood tests show that the number of cases of lead poisoning is rising.
Between 1989 and 1990, the number of reported cases of lead poisoning in Carroll County jumped from one to three; statewide, the number increased from 544 to 1,445.
Most of the increase, however, is attributed to better testing methods and more accurate screening procedures, the state environmental agency said.
In Carroll County, the biggest concern is to keep children from becoming exposed to the metal. Schools and most homes are considered to be relatively safe from lead contamination.
Of the 42,200 homes in the county, only as many as 10,000 are considered old enough to pose a risk of lead contamination, said Larry L. Leitch, deputy health officer at the Carroll County Department of Health.
Lead was widely used as an additive in the United States until about 1976. Lead-based paints were outlawed in 1977, the use of lead pipes or lead-soldered copper pipes was banned shortly after and the use of leaded gasoline was phased out beginning in 1976.
"I really don't believe there is a lead poisoning problem in the county," said J. Michael Evans, director of the county Department of Permits and Regulations. "But we're always checking."
Continued checking is a goal of both the state and federal governments. Gov. William Donald Schaefer declared May 13-19 as "Lead Poisoning Prevention Week." On the national level, the EPA this month began a tougher, $1 billion lead-abatement program.
Of the 1,445 cases of lead poisoning recorded statewide last year, 1,148 of them were in Baltimore. More than 200,000 homes
in the city are considered potential high-lead homes, authorities said.