North Harford Middle getting water filtration system

$60,000 fix to be ordered to reduce nitrate levels

January 19, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

County school officials told a meeting of concerned parents Thursday night that they will spend $60,000 on a new water filtration system to lower the nitrate level and, hopefully, improve the taste of the drinking water at North Harford Middle School.

Joseph Licata, assistant superintendent for operation, said bids for the work were opened last week and the new system should be installed within two months.

About a dozen parents attended the meeting, which also addressed the school's air quality. The school has 1,240 pupils.

Parents became alarmed when the school posted signs on the water fountains warning that because of the level of nitrates, the water might not be safe for pregnant women and infants.

Nitrates can interfere with the body's ability to move oxygen through the bloodstream.

"Why put a sign up if the water is healthy," asked Vicki Bull of Street, who has a son in the sixth grade.

Licata said the water might taste bad but insisted that it was safe for middle-schoolers to drink. "If we have a health-concern problem, we will address it," he said.

Tests at the school found the water to be slightly above the federal drinking water standard for nitrates of 10 parts per million.

The lead and copper content of the water also were at levels that required corrective action under Maryland Department of Environment regulations, Licata said.

To correct the problem, school custodians have been running the water at drinking fountains for several minutes each morning to flush the system and water left in the pipes overnight, he said.

Where possible, he said, the school is coating the inside of water lines to keep lead from leaching from the solder used to connect pipes.

Licata reiterated that the water was still safe to drink. If it was not safe, he said, the state health department "would come in and say, `Shut down.'"

An environmental consultant hired by the school system also reported that carbon dioxide levels were high enough in a few classrooms to cause them to be "stuffy and uncomfortable," but not to the point of being a health concern.

"If the room is uncomfortable, it's not conducive to learning," said Kim Ayres of Street, who has a son in the sixth grade.

Licata said a company has been hired to work on the ventilation system, and the work should be completed soon.

Harford County Councilman Lance C. Miller said that if the school was putting signs on the water fountains to warn pregnant women, "perhaps nobody should be drinking the water."

He said he told parents that he would work with the school system to provide an alternative source of water until the new filtration system is in place.

In the meantime, Bruce Kovacs, the school's principal, said pupils could carry bottled water to class.

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