MCPS failed to enact lead plans

Feb. 1, 2007, midnight | By Laura Mirviss | 13 years, 11 months ago

MCPS has failed to follow through on plans to reduce lead levels in Blair's water sources two years after Facilities Management found that 237 water sources exceeded the federal limit of 20 parts per billion (ppb), with an average lead level of 58 ppb.

None of the repairs ordered in MCPS's remediation plan have occurred to date. MCPS has not yet determined when it will make the repairs at Blair.

Thirteen water faucets remain shut off and unusable, awaiting repairs by plumbers from the MCPS Department of Facilities Management. No water fixtures have been repaired or re-tested.

MCPS has also not posted signs in 215 additional locations with significant levels of lead contamination where drinking is unlikely, such as bathrooms, science classrooms and photography labs.

Two water sources commonly used by sports teams, a tub faucet located in the training room between the girls' and boys' locker rooms and a faucet in the stadium concession stand, remain untested for possible lead contamination.

Building services manager Yakubu Agbonselobho said that Blair no longer flushes (runs the water for 30 seconds or more) in these high-lead locations, even though the signs are a mandatory alternative to regular daily flushing.

Environmental Safety Coordinator Lynne Zarate said failure to flush drinking water sources violates MCPS policy. "Schools are still supposed to be flushing," she said. She sent out a security memo in July to remind building services staffs countywide.

Health risks

Water contaminated with lead at 20 ppb or higher can cause permanent mental retardation, behavioral disorders and other problems if ingested by younger children in sufficient quantities, according to Bruce Lanphear, director of the Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health Center.

Cindy Edwards, a Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services representative who sat on the MCPS committee that oversaw the investigation of lead contamination in schools, believes that lead poses the biggest threat to pregnant high school students, as ingesting significant quantities of lead could cause fetal damage. "If your body is more mature, the better you can clear it," she explained. "With younger [child] development, lead can affect anemia, ability to learn and pay attention."

A December 2006 study by Children's Hospital suggests a correlation between environmental toxins and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Specifically, lead exposure "has been associated with higher rates of inattention and impulsivity," the study says.

Children tested in the sample with diagnosed ADHD demonstrated high levels of lead in their blood. Additionally, correlations between lead concentration and Intelligence Quotient deficiencies were noted.

Remediation specifications

The remediation plan proposed that damaged fixtures be replaced and waterproof signs be installed at other locations to warn students and staff that drinking contaminated water is unsafe. Zarate estimates that signs have been put up in only one-half to one-third of the schools in which repairs have occurred. "Plumbers are working on placement, [but] it's not our first line of effort," she said.

Zarate is more concerned with fixture repair at high-priority schools. High lead levels are most dangerous for students under age six, Zarate said, so elementary schools are scheduled for remediation first. Schools with older piping are also a priority, as those schools tended to have higher lead concentrations in their water.

Slow progress

Zarate blames the slow progress on limited staff and resources. Maintenance must be completed at night or during the summer when the building is not in use. When a faucet requires a valve replacement, an entire
wing of the school may need to be shut down, so no repairs can be completed during the workday.

Plumbers must work overtime during nights or breaks to complete remediation work, in addition to other maintenance duties. "They're working, but there's only so hard you can push a guy," Zarate said. The Department of Facilities Management has only five plumbers and one supervisor to perform general maintenance for the approximately 70 schools, including Blair, served by the Randolph Road depot.

She estimated that last summer, remediation was completed in eight or nine schools and two more schools were completed over winter break. MCPS's objective is to reduce the levels to well below 20 ppb. In 1996, Congress passed a series of amendments to the 1988 Safe Drinking Water Act, establishing a performance -based voluntary standard of 11 ppb. MCPS adheres to this standard, MCPS Health and Human Services representative Cindy Edwards said.

Flushing on a case-by-case basis is one way for students and staff to eliminate the risk of lead poisoning. As far as health, we recommend that everybody, regardless of the source, always flush until the water is cold," Edwards said. "Testing shows that if you flush water, the concentration of lead is almost nothing. When that isn't happening, that's when we replace the fixtures," she said.

Edwards recommends that water be flushed for between 30 seconds and a minute, or until the water is cold, before each use.

Laura Mirviss. Laura Mirviss is far more excited than she should be about being on the Chips staff this year. She loves field hockey, lacrosse, The New Yorker, and Ben and Jerry's. When trying to keep things in perspective, Laura likes to remember the words of Ferris … More »

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