Health chief drops $11,600 water fines against city schools

April 15, 2003|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Even though it took nearly two months for school officials to get the lead out of Baltimore students' drinking water, the city's top health official isn't holding a grudge.

Yesterday, Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson waived nearly $12,000 worth of fines that the school system had accumulated since February, when officials were told to shut off water fountains and alert students that sinks are only for washing hands - or pay the city until they did.

More than 50 schools failed in some fashion to meet Beilenson's order, which was intended to prevent students from possibly drinking lead-contaminated water - for a total of 116 violations. The Health Department fined each school $100 per violation.

But Beilenson said in a news conference yesterday that all 173 schools are in full compliance, and that with the school system already facing a multimillion-dollar deficit, he would not collect the $11,600 in fines.

"In many ways, the school system's facilities people should have been penalized for this," he said. "But the last thing we want to do is punish kids for the school system's problems."

School system Chief Operating Officer Mark Smolarz said his office will focus on long-term solutions to the problem, including retesting water fountains in recently renovated schools and researching companies that specialize in water filtration systems.

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