Photo by Evangeline Fox
*Editor’s note: This story has been amended to clarify the difference between the EPA’s recommended lead action level for public water systems and the recommended levels for public school fixtures.
By Caitlyn Freeman
Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) released the updated results from the county-wide testing for lead content in school water sources on Friday, February 1st. Eight water sources at Arundel High tested positive for elevated lead content.
According to the letter that Principal Davenport sent home to students and parents Friday afternoon explaining the testing results, Microbac Laboratories Inc., a second private lab hired by the county to conduct the testing, collected 175 water samples from Arundel on Saturday, December 15th, 2018.
Out of the 175 tested outlets, eight samples (three consumable and five non-consumable), tested positive for levels of lead that exceeded the legal limit, set by the Maryland Department of the Environment, of 20 parts per billion (ppb).
According to the AACPS website, a consumable source is any source that is designated for water consumption like water fountains, ice machines, and hot water machines. Other drinking water sources like slop sinks, kitchen sinks, and hand sinks are considered non-consumable sources.
Although the legal limit for lead content in drinking water in Maryland is 20 ppb, *the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends an action level (AL) of 15 ppb for lead content in public water water systems. However, due to the Safe Drinking Water Act, states are allowed to set the standards for the legal amount of lead content that is allowed in drinking water.`
Arundel’s testing results show the water fountains and bubblers (a type of water fountain) in the girl’s locker room, Team Room 1, and the rightmost fountain near A109 (closest to C-hall) are consumable sources that exceed 20 ppb.
As for the non-consumable sources, two hand sinks in the G-Hall girl’s bathroom, two hand sinks in the upstairs E-Hall girl’s bathroom, and the hand sink in Team Room 3 all have a lead content that exceeds 20 ppb.
As previously reported in a November 8th article in The Pulse, Bob Mosier, Chief Communications Officer for AACPS, explained that water outlets that have tested positive for lead and exceeded 20 ppb, are shut off immediately and will not be used until retesting occurs and a negative result appears.
Aside from the eight samples which presented levels of lead that exceed 20 ppb, the testing results also show that nine consumable sources and eight non-consumable sources showed a lead content of higher than 1.0 ppb but lower than 20 ppb. Some of the sources deemed acceptable for consumption presented levels above the EPA recommended 15 ppb AL.
As for the non-consumable sources, multiple hand sinks around the building as well as multiple sinks in the cafeteria kitchen have levels of lead that don’t quite exceed the legal limit but are above 1.0 ppb.
In an interview with The Pulse, Mosier explained that the school system has sampled all the schools in the AACPS system and is waiting on the rest of the results. He added that they have testing results for about 75% of the 126 county schools that were tested.
He said that the next step for AACPS is to go back and retest all the outlets in the schools that have tested positive for levels of lead that exceed the legal limit. As for outlets that have levels of lead that don’t exceed the legal limit for Maryland but still show significant lead contents, Mosier said “they continue to operate.”
Lead, which bio-accumulates in one’s body, is known to have a significant health effects on people, especially children. If a child is exposed to lead, even at a low level, they can experience damage to the peripheral and central nervous systems, learning disabilities, impaired formation and function of blood cells, growth, hearing, and risk of anemia.
In adults, a small amount of lead consumption isn’t nearly as harmful. Excessive lead consumption can cause cardiovascular issues, decreased kidney function, and reproductive issues for both men and women.
“Any lead is a concern,” Mr. Swetz, a science teacher at Arundel, said during an October interview with The Pulse in regards to how much lead consumption is dangerous for high school-aged children.
For the full testing results visit https://www.aacps.org/watertestresults.