Petition on water fountains dismissed

City schools complying with order issued amid lead scare, Beilenson says

April 16, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Members of a children's advocacy group asked a Baltimore Circuit Court judge yesterday to dismiss a petition they had filed regarding high levels of lead in Baltimore city schools' drinking water.

After hearing testimony that most of the group's concerns had been addressed by the school system, Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. granted that request and dismissed the petition. The complaint, filed last month, had asked for an injunction seeking to have drinking fountains replaced with bottled water, warning signs posted, and the preparation of food with the water halted.

During the past two months, school officials have been struggling to comply with an order from city Health Department Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson to do some of the very things that the advocacy group's lawyers were asking the court to make the schools do. On Monday, the Health Department said all 173 public schools were found in compliance.

As part of the petition, Jimmy A. Bell - attorney for Tyrone Powers and Leslie Parker-Blyther of the Children 1st Movement - had asked that Matricciani force city schools to stop cooking with water that they said might also be lead-tainted.

Beilenson testified yesterday that the schools had already stopped doing that as well.

"It is my belief that right now no children are being exposed to lead, at least in the public school system," Beilenson said.

When Matricciani asked Beilenson about possible connections between cooking with lead-tainted water and children's health, the city's top health official testified that there was not enough research to make one.

However, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health said the Environmental Protection Agency did not distinguish between drinking water and cooking water when making a judgment about health and safety.

"They should be equally concerned about the lead in the water for cooking the food," said Rolf Halden, of the school's Center for Water and Health, in an earlier interview. "I would support the move to do something, [because when cooking,] anything that is involved with water may end up in the food."

After the hearing, Bell said he was satisfied with the outcome.

"What we intended was to have the children stop ingesting lead at school," he said. "Our objective was fulfilled."

Frank Derr, associate counsel for the school system, declined to comment.

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