Arsenic found in 1 well at Winfield Elementary

Elevated levels traced to pesticide spraying

water source capped

Carroll County

October 11, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Arsenic-based pesticides sprayed around Winfield Elementary School appear to be the cause of elevated levels of arsenic in water from one of the school's two wells, Carroll County health and school officials said yesterday.

Although the measured level of arsenic fell well below the current federal standard of 50 parts per billion in drinking water, the well was capped this week and is being used only to supplement the school's water supply until a new well can be drilled, said Raymond Prokop, the school system's acting facilities director and construction supervisor.

"We're still within those levels, but it looked like we could do something to address this concern when parents say there is a higher level [in the school's well] than in surrounding wells and why should our kids be exposed to it?" Prokop said. "So even if [the Environmental Protection Agency] lowers the rates, we'll be well ahead of the curve on this one."

A National Academy of Sciences report issued last month to the EPA administrator shows that cancer risks are high even for low levels of arsenic in tap water. The standard was set in 1942.

In the past, arsenic levels in Winfield's water were between 15 parts to 20 parts per billion - less than half the federal standard.

Last month, prompted by parents concerned about arsenic levels at the school, which is in southwest Carroll, the county Health Department decided to test the wells again. This time, it tested the water in each well separately.

"What we found was that the water in the well closest to the school came back at 23 parts per billion," said Brian Flynn, supervisor of water safety for the Health Department. "The other well was zero."

Crews capped the well closest to the school Monday, but within hours were forced to turn it back on, using what Prokop called a "lead and lag system." That means that the well with no detectable levels of arsenic runs most of the time. But when that well can't provide enough water for the school, the well with 23 parts per billion switches on and pumps water into the holding tank, where it is diluted by water from the clean well. The school system is awaiting cost estimates on drilling a new well.

Principal Rebecca Erdeljac has sent two letters home with pupils to inform parents about the well. She said she expects to send a third letter home this week or early next week.

"I have very supportive parents," she said, "and they like to know what's happening."

Sun staff writer Maria Blackburn contributed to this article.

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