City orders fountains off in schools

Bottled-water coolers to be installed by March 7

February 27, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

City Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson issued an order yesterday requiring all drinking fountains in Baltimore schools to be disabled by March 7. The fountains are to be replaced by bottled-water coolers - at least one water cooler for every 100 students.

The order came on the heels of school officials' declarations this week that sweeping action would be taken to ensure that students weren't still drinking lead-contaminated water more than a decade after tainted fountains were ordered turned off.

"Frankly, it's out of a sense of frustration that this is still dragging on that we're issuing this order," Beilenson said yesterday at a meeting with school officials, parents and Health Department staff. "We thought this was solved a few years ago."

Although school facilities officials said Monday that all schools would be outfitted with at least six bottled-water coolers by tomorrow - regardless of whether water from their drinking fountains had tested positive for high levels of lead - Beilenson's order puts added emphasis on the district's obligation to comply.

"It's a force of law. They've got to do it," Beilenson said. "We can take them to court."

Pradeep Dixit, the system's director of school facilities, said Beilenson's order will be followed.

"We are already working on it," Dixit said.

Mark Smolarz, the system's chief operating officer, said the system is planning to install one cooler for about every 60 students.

"We're almost there," Smolarz said. "We just have a couple more coolers to get delivered."

Beilenson's order also requires that the system:

Post "appropriate signage" over all faucets at hand and kitchen sinks, labeling them for hand washing only.

Post in each building's main office copies of water sampling reports from the 1990s.

Send information home to all parents, informing them of what steps are being taken.

Ruth Ann Norton, director of the nonprofit Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said her group had been asking the Health Department to take a bigger role in fixing the schools' lead problems.

"I think that the Health Department is taking an absolute step in the right direction," Norton said. "It's good that they're stepping up."

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