Lead risk from water at school is low, city says

Levels in fountains at Brooklyn elementary not thought to be danger

April 18, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Baltimore health officials tried to reassure parents at Maree G. Farring Elementary School yesterday that the health risk to children from lead found in the school's drinking water is relatively low.

Health officials ordered the Brooklyn school to shut down drinking fountains late last month after it found low levels of lead - 15 parts per billion to 80 parts per billion - in the water. Pupils have since been given bottled water.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner, said he is advising parents who are concerned about lead poisoning to have their children tested.

The problem at Maree G. Farring Elementary was first identified by school officials about a decade ago, but it is unclear what action was taken afterward.

Vanessa Pyatt, a school spokeswoman, said the school system turned off seven water fountains at the school in 1992.

"They were to remain off. We are not sure about whether those fountains were turned back on," Pyatt said.

Pyatt said there seems to be confusion over whether the fountains that were tested a decade ago were tested again a couple of months ago. For that reason, she said, the school system decided to shut off all the Maree G. Farring Elementary water fountains indefinitely.

Alice M. O'Malley, vice president of the school's PTO, said she has had children in the school for the past nine years and all of the fountains have been operating during that time.

O'Malley said the concerns of parents have been ignored by central staff. When parents called the city schools headquarters at North Avenue, she said, they haven't gotten answers.

"When Laura Bush came to our school, everyone was here," she said, listing city, school and state officials who visited. "But for something really important, then they aren't here."

The tests done recently by the Health Department, Beilenson said, showed lead levels of 15 to 20 parts per billion in samples from four water fountains and a levels of 40 parts per billion and 80 parts per billion in samples from two other fountains.

He said those levels are still relatively low, but health officials begin "paying attention" when levels reach 15 parts per billion in water.

The greatest lead exposure risk is to children 2 and younger.

Beilenson said he thinks it is unlikely that a child would consume enough water from school drinking fountains over a period of years to be affected.

While the said he could not assure parents there are no risks associated with the water fountains, he said he thinks other sources of lead, such as lead paint dust, pose much greater risks to children.

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