3 schools turn to bottled water following lead tests BALTIMORE COUNTY

November 22, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

Students and faculty in three Baltimore County elementary schools are getting their drinking water from bottles instead of fountains after lead in excess of federal regulations was found in their water systems.

The lead was discovered during a survey begun this fall, said Reginald Ringgold, the school system's acting head of environmental services. All 148 county schools are to be checked during the survey, which is expected to take another year to complete.

Thus far, seven schools have been tested, Mr. Ringgold said. Lead in excess of 20 parts per billion was found at Hampton, Baltimore Highlands and Scotch Branch elementaries.

"If this was 1987, this wouldn't have meant anything," said Robin Read, principal of Hampton Elementary. "It's not that our lead levels went up; it's that the standards got tougher."

The survey is designed to see if lead levels meet standards laid down by the federal Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988. The act lowered allowable lead in drinking water to 20 parts per billion from 50 parts per billion.

If excessive lead levels are found in a school's drinking water, the plumbing system is checked and corrective actions are taken, said Mr.Ringgold.

At Baltimore Highlands, soldered joints -- often the source of lead -- have been replaced with plastic pipes. Faucets and bubblers on water fountains are now being replaced.

So far, Baltimore Highlands is the only school where repairs have been made as a result of the survey.

"In those three schools, the lead has been right around the 20 parts-per-billion standard," Mr. Ringgold said. "Even if it's a little below, we count it as being above the standard."

Thus far, Mr. Ringgold said, the expenses have been covered by his department's maintenance allocation, but he thinks the final costs will exceed the available maintenance funds.

"It costs $50 to $100 just to test each school, and we have 148 of them," he said.

"And 10 of those are on well systems that require special tests that cost $24,000 each. When we get into fixing all the systems with lead problems, it could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Mr. Read said that Hampton Elementary has turned off all of its classroom water fountains. Students are using seven coolers with bottled water.

"It's not as convenient, but everyone is adjusting," he said. "And a lot of the students have noticed that the quality of the water is much better."

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