Several voters have asked me what I think of how MCPS is managing lead in the water in our schools, and again, I am giving a more complete answer here than is possible to do while walking a parade or standing at the Glenmont Metro. I hope voters find this helpful!
I support decreasing the “action level” for MCPS for lead levels from 20 parts per billion (ppb) to at least 10ppb, and ideally to 5ppb.
I have represented the families of students who were struggling with the after-effects of childhood lead exposure and know how pervasive the harm from early childhood lead exposure is. Many of the effects of lead exposure are permanent, and the early signs of damage to a child’s brain from lead exposure are subtle. There is a good reason the experts focus on prevention, the damage to a child frequently can not be undone.
Lead exposure can be from multiple sources, and it isn’t just an issue for drinking water. In fact, living in older homes, especially older homes in poor repair or under renovation, is a significant source of lead exposure (see also Maryland Department of Health resources). However, the fact that drinking water is only a part of the lead exposure problem, doesn’t mean we can ignore that part of the problem at school. MCPS has to do our part to keep kids safe, and that means lowering the threshold of acceptable lead levels.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets 15ppb as the action level for lead in home tap water (see also EPA rule for public water systems) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has set the action level to be 20ppb for schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “that State and local governments should take steps to ensure that water fountains in schools do not exceed water lead concentrations of 1 ppb.”
It might be acceptable to have an action level of 20ppb if the drinking fountains at school were the only source of lead exposure for any of our children. But we know that isn’t true; we know that lead exposure is a particular problem for children who have spent time in developing countries, whose mother might have been exposed to lead during pregnancy, and children who live in older homes. This map shows 11 zip codes in Montgomery County that were designated to be at-risk for lead exposure by the Maryland Department of Health.
Combating lead exposure is complicated, and involves working with other agencies and authorities, but that doesn’t mean that schools can’t do their part and make sure that students aren’t exposed to additional lead at school. Other school districts have done so, and so should we.
Notes & additional links/resources.
**additional resources – Recent WTOP article, MCPS report on Lead Levels, the American Academy of Pediatrics Lead exposure policies and resources, and Mayo Clinic link on basics of lead exposure and treatment.
**if you have seen 20ppb reported as the action level for schools, that is correct – Page 12 of this guidance from the EPA explains that 15ppb is triggering point for action on a public water system level, and 20ppb is school specific guidance. I reference the 15ppb level because that is the level where a parent, testing their water at home, would be recommended to take some action to reduce lead levels and I think the most analogous to the drinking fountains at schools.
**What other schools are doing
- DC – moved from the 15ppb to 1ppb for DCPS schools and Parks and Recreations Sites
- PGCPS – now uses 10ppb or 15ppb, down from 20ppb at the drinking fountain/tap level, but tests source water during new construction at 10ppb, and requires new building to be at 10ppb. See also – parent activism on lead in PGCPS.
- Seattle Public Schools – uses 10ppb