All plumbing fixtures in elementary schools will be replaced by July of 2005 as a result of the Montgomery County Council's allocation of $1.6 million to reduce lead levels in MCPS drinking water. Middle- and high-school plumbing fixtures will be replaced by July of 2006.
The Board of Education requested funding from the Council after testing revealed that the fixtures were a primary source of lead, according to Sean Gallagher, assistant director of the Department of Facilities Management for MCPS. The discovery that the fixtures were responsible for the high lead content in water earlier this year caused a revival in water-flushing procedures, because stagnant water can accumulate lead if it remains in the fixtures. Gallagher said that flushing the systems for 30 seconds every four hours is sufficient to reduce lead levels, but he added that replacing the fixtures provides a "more permanent solution" for schools.
Building engineer Reginald Tobin said that Blair has been flushing pipes in accordance with MCPS guidelines. Despite Blair's compliance with the flushing policy, December tests revealed that Blair was among the schools with high levels of lead. Federal standards mandate that the concentration of lead be less than 20 parts per billion (ppb). The December tests showed that the average concentration of lead at Blair was 22.5 ppb and that the maximum concentration was 2,310 ppb.
The program makes elementary schools the first priority, as young children are more susceptible to lead poisoning, said Gallagher.
Gallagher is confident that replacing fixtures will have a significant impact on the lead levels in water. "It will bring schools within [Environmental Protection Agency] guidelines," he said.
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