Governor signs bill meant to lower acceptable levels of lead in school drinking water; 13 Arundel water sources exceed the ‘intended’ lead content

Photo by Evangeline Fox

By Caitlyn Freeman 

Governor Larry Hogan signed The Lead Reduction and Remediation Act, which includes a non-binding expression of intent from The Maryland General Assembly to reduce the acceptable lead content in school drinking water sources to five parts per billion (ppb), into law on May 13th, 2019. 13 drinking water sources (ten non-consumable and three consumable) at Arundel High School previously tested positive for contents of lead higher than five ppb but tested lower than the state-mandated 20 ppb action level for lead in drinking water sources. Since the new law is non-binding, and the water sources are in accordance with state law, they continue to operate.

The new legislation, House Bill (HB) 1253, requires school systems to publicize all testing results, which differs from the requirement embedded in HB 270, which initiated the statewide testing for lead content in school drinking water sources in 2017, that required school systems to report only on sources that meet or exceed 20 ppb.

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Jared Solomon, a state delegate representing district 18 in Montgomery County and sponsor of HB 1253, said in regards to the new requirement of reporting all testing results. He believes that there is no “safe” level of lead in drinking water and that parents would want to be aware of the amount of lead that is present in the water sources at their child’s school.

According to an April article in The Baltimore Sun, Solomon’s initial legislation was amended in the state Senate to no longer require school systems to replace contaminated fixtures; however, the elevated sources must be shut off. HB 270 previously required school systems to replace and remediate elevated sources.

The new legislation also gives school systems access to the Healthy School Facility Fund, a fund that school systems can access for construction-based remediations,  which Solomon says won’t be available until the Fiscal Year 2020, in order to obtain funding for remediation of contaminated sources. According to HB 1253, which can be found on the General Assembly of Maryland webpage, Hogan is to allocate $30 million minimum to the fund annually.

According to the testing results released by Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) on Friday, February 1st, at Arundel, eight water sources (three consumable and five non-consumable) tested positive for elevated lead content. As previously reported by The Pulse, Bob Mosier, Chief Communications Officer for AACPS, explained that if a source tested positive for elevated lead content, it would be immediately shut off and would remain that way until it was remediated and a negative testing result occurred.

Screen Shot 2019-05-15 at 10.50.56 PM 2

At Arundel, ten consumable sources above exceed the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for lead in drinking water sources but continue to operate because they comply with state law.

Alongside the ten consumable sources that tested over five ppb, but tested under the state law, three consumable and five non-consumable drinking water sources previously tested positive for lead contents over 20 ppb.  

Screen Shot 2019-05-15 at 11.13.19 PM
At Arundel, ten non-consumable sources above exceed the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for lead in drinking water sources but continue to operate because they comply with state law.

As for the non-consumable sources, ten fixtures at Arundel exceed the EPA’s MCLG for lead in drinking water sources, but continue to operate because they comply with state law.

Solomon says that the bill the House of Delegates presented to the state Senate would have reduced the action level for lead content in school drinking water sources from 20 ppb to five ppb. He says that the school systems were concerned and believed that there was not enough funding for a five ppb mandate. The amended bill that was passed by the Senate and signed into law does not change the state limit of 20 ppb, but it is the intent that all school systems get their drinking water sources to five ppb or below.

“It is just intent, it’s not binding,” Solomon said.

Stephen Lafferty, a state Delegate representing district 42a in Baltimore County and sponsor of HB 270, explained that the 20 ppb action level for lead content in school drinking water sources that is embedded into HB 270 is based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 3T’s for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water, which at the time of the passing of the legislation had been revised in 2006 and recommended a 20 ppb action level.

Solomon, echoing Lafferty’s explanation, believes that the current action level doesn’t “adapt” to the current EPA recommendation. “You can argue that our law is no longer valid,” Solomon said.

According to the EPA website, The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the agency to create Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs) for lead content in drinking water sources that poses no threat to human health.  In 2018, the EPA revised the 3T’s, and according to a webpage on the EPA’s website regarding lead in drinking water, the agency set a MCLGs for lead content in drinking water sources at zero.

AACPS began the testing process in March of 2018. According to the webpage the school system created for the testing process, as of March 8th, 2019, 745 non-consumable and 112 consumable sources across the school system have tested positive for elevated lead contents. The school system, unlike others in the state, decided to release all testing results to the public instead of just those that test over the state-mandated 20 ppb.

“We wanted to be totally transparent with our parents at every single school,” Mosier said in regards to why the school system decided to publicize all testing results.

He says that the school system made the decision to test both consumable and non-consumable sources knowing the number of elevated sources would be higher. He explained that AACPS made the decision to test more because when they began testing, there were no standardized regulations for the testing. Thus, as he stated, to prevent having to retest prematurely, they tested everything.

“Because we tested everything, we reported everything,” Mosier said.

Mosier explained, in a previous interview with The Pulse, that once the school system completes the initial round of testing, they’ll then retest all the contaminated drinking water sources and replace them.

“Our intent in this round has been to replace,” Moser said in regards to the consumable drinking water sources. He also explained that going forward, the school system plans to test one-third of the 126 schools under the AACPS umbrella every year.

As stated on the EPA’s website, a low level of lead consumption can have a significant impact on children, including: behavior and learning problems, reduced IQ and hyperactivity, hearing issues, anemia, and delayed Growth The Agency also says that in unlikely cases, lead consumption can lead to comas, seizures, and death.

Lead can also significantly impact pregnant women as well. As the EPA’s webpage explained, lead bioaccumulates in one’s body and is stored in the bones along with calcium. If an expecting mother has lead bio-accumulated in her bones and has a calcium deficiency, the lead can breach the placenta and negatively impact the fetus by reducing growth or causing premature births.

In adults, the EPA says lead consumption could cause the following: cardiovascular issues; increased blood pressure and hypertension, decreased kidney function, reproductive issues for both men and women.