The Montgomery County Council today unanimously passed legislation introduced by Councilmember Tom Hucker that will reduce levels of toxic lead in Montgomery County Public Schools’ drinking water.
Currently, Montgomery County schools follow the state lead standard of 20 parts per billion (ppb). Bill 2-19 - Health - Lead in Drinking Water - Schools — lowers that action threshold to 5 ppb.
“Scientists agree: There is no safe level of lead, a neurotoxin that permanently damages our children’s developing brains and bodies,” Councilmember Hucker said. “Now that we have recent testing results from the Montgomery County Public Schools, we must take action. We owe it to our children to do all we can to protect their health.”
Lead accumulates in children’s teeth and bones. It can cause behavioral and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. In fact, it’s been estimated that keeping lead out of children’s bodies and brains would save more than 20 million total IQ points among U.S. children, plus billions of dollars in annual costs associated with lead exposure.
In 2017, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 270, which required all schools to test their drinking water for lead by July 1, 2018. The Montgomery County Public Schools recently met that requirement and found 238 fixtures that exceeded the 20 ppb standard and many more that showed levels of lead between 5 ppb and 20 ppb. The state mandates that school drinking outlets with lead levels of 20 ppb or more must be closed or fixed.
According the Montgomery County Public Schools website as of March 1, 2019, the district had tested 13,570 outlets countywide with 249 of 1.8 percent of outlets returning elevated (higher than 20 bbp) results. MCPS said that of that number only 159 were accessible to students. Among UpCounty schools with the highest test results were Germantown Elementary School, Fox Chapel Elementary, and Clopper Mill Elementary School in Germantown; Woodfield Elementary School and Damascus High School in Damascus, and Poolesville Elementary School and Poolesville High School, along with Darnestown Elementary School.
The only UpCounty school not tested was Monocacy Elementary School in Dickerson which is classified as a public water system because the water is supplied by a well located on the property. Bottled water is provided for drinking and cooking at Monocacy elementary school.
In the last year or so, MCPS has remediated almost all the outlets that exceed that limit.
But that’s not good enough, Hucker said, pointing out that the EPA — along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics — all agree there is no safe level of lead exposure.
Two neighboring jurisdictions already have action levels lower than even the EPA standard of 15 ppb. Prince George’s County has an action level of 10 parts per billion, while Washington, D.C., has cut its threshold from 5 ppb to 1 ppb.
“I thank my colleagues for their enthusiastic support for this legislation. Keeping our kids healthy must be one of our schools’ top priorities, especially when it involves their brains and ability to learn,” Hucker said. “Anything less is simply unacceptable.”
File Photos by Germantown Pulse