MCPS water problems resurface after 18 years

March 23, 2004, midnight | By Cori Cohen | 20 years, 2 months ago

Two more Montgomery County elementary schools were found to have elevated levels of lead, bringing the total to three out of three schools tested and prompting MCPS to hasten testing throughout the county. However, this is not the first time Montgomery County system has served up water with elevated levels of lead.

Montgomery County faced the same problem 18 years ago when the drinking water in one-third of all schools in Montgomery County was found to be contaminated.

According to a 1988 article in Silver Chips, the water in Blair was tested in 1986 and found to contain lead at levels as high as 450 parts per billion (ppb). The current EPA standard is 20 ppb. As a result, a flushing system was implemented, the same procedure Superintendent Jerry Weast has recently instructed schools to follow. The problem was identified as originating in a 50 percent lead solder that connected the pipes. The current EPA standard for solders is .2 percent lead.

In the fall of 1988, a group of Magnet students tested the school's water and found Blair's water contained 25 ppb on average. Silver Chips published a story on contaminated water.

A few months later, MCPS conducted testing in schools around the county. According to a March 24, 1989 article in The Washington Post, over 300 drinking fountains were disconnected in the 117 schools that had high levels of lead. The highest amounts of lead were found in John F. Kennedy High School, which had a fountain containing 480 ppb, and Westbrook Elementary School, which had a fountain containing 370 ppb.

In 2000, Seneca Valley High School chemistry students found elevated levels of lead in their drinking water. The county confirmed the results of the tests and installed new filters, but did not test elsewhere. According to The Washington Post, Richard Hawes, MCPS Director of Facility Management said, "We got all the experts together -- the health department, folks from the EPA and people who were supposed to know all the sciences -- and the conclusion from everybody was that [the results of the tests at Seneca Valley] was an anomaly."

In the latest testing the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), who performs the tests, took nearly 100 samples from different fountains at three elementary schools. According to The Washington Post, at Maryvale Elementary School, the first school to be tested on March 16, the WSSC found one sample of water containing 207 ppb.

On March 17, WSSC took 90 samples of water from Gaithersburg Elementary School, according to the MCPS web site. Twenty percent were contaminated. The most lead was found in a sample containing 81.5 ppb.

The following day, March 18, WSSC tested water at South Lake Elementary School. According to the MCPS web site, 14 percent of the water samples were found to be contaminated, with the most contaminated water containing lead at 70.4 ppb.

According to the EPA children are far more vulnerable to the effects of lead than adults. The EPA web site states that exposure to lead could "delay physical and mental growth" and cause "deficits in attention span and learning disabilities."

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Cori Cohen. Cori Cohen is a senior. And guess what? She made has made some new friends! CICADAS! She loves taking them for drives and is starting a "save the cicadas program." More »

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