Corroded pipe caused school water problem Area tests show rusty discoloration limited to Liberty High

No health problem seen

Repairs to be finished before beginning of next academic year

June 01, 1998|By John Murphy and Mary Gail Hare | John Murphy and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

When murky, rust-colored water flowed from taps at Liberty High School after Memorial Day weekend, school maintenance officials scratched their heads looking for the cause.

They tested the water at neighboring residences and at a water station near the Eldersburg school, fearing the problem might be widespread. All the tests came up negative.

But water pipes in the school had a problem, they discovered.

A 500-foot section of galvanized pipe running from the water main to the school maintenance room was corroding, releasing rust and sediment into the school's water system.

Officials traced the cause of the discoloration after the tests showed no one "experienced the problems [but] the school," said Wayne Lewns, county bureau chief of utilities.

"We ran tests on pH and chlorine. The surrounding people had no problems, and that is the first key there is not a problem with the water," he said.

School maintenance officials said to repair the pipe would cost $15,000 to $20,000, an amount that is not in the maintenance budget this year.

"We'll have to pull the money together. We have to," said Robert L. Conaway, supervisor of plant maintenance for Carroll County Public Schools.

Conaway said the pipe will take about three weeks to replace, and work should be complete before the beginning of the next school year. It cannot be replaced immediately, because it would cause too many disruptions for the school, he said.

The corrosion, caused by a reaction between the galvanized pipe and the copper pipe used in the rest of the school, has been a problem for several years, Conaway said.

A buffer between the pipes that would have prevented corrosion was not installed when the school was built in the 1980s.

During most of the week the water at the school runs clear. Water flows through the pipes swiftly enough that discoloration is not a problem.

But when the system is not in use -- as was the case for the three-day Memorial Day weekend -- sediment settles in the metal pipes. Murky water builds up and flows through the taps the first time water is turned on.

"The water was certainly discolored from sediment or whatever," said Principal Randy Clark. "This is my first year in the building, but I've been told that this is not new."

Water flowing from taps in the art room and home economics department was the most discolored, Conaway said. Both rooms were close to the source of the corrosion, he said.

When school maintenance officials returned to Liberty High on Tuesday afternoon they found no problem at the school.

"The system was fine by afternoon, because it was much in use," Lewns said.

The school has tried to alleviate sediment problems by turning on the water on weekends. That has not worked, Conaway said.

Though the water did not look appetizing, it was fine to drink, Conaway said.

"The health department examined the water and found there were no health concerns. The water is potable," Conaway said. "It's not as serious a problem as people think it is."

But the school might offer bottled water for students and faculty until repairs can be made, Conaway said.

Pub Date: 6/01/98

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