By Jack Chavez
At least seven of the 14 Bowie-area public schools tested for high concentrations of lead in their drinking water since 2017, according to an internal report from the county school system. The county has taken remediation steps since elevated lead levels surfaced.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends water be shut off at any faucet where lead exceeds 20 parts per billion, the county takes action at 10 ppb, because schools are open longer than the six-hour day the EPA used to determine their threshold. Water sources tested include fountains and food preparation areas. They don’t include showers or bathroom sinks.
Letters concerning the findings will be sent to parents this school year.
At the Belair Annex, where the freshman class of Bowie High School takes classes, at least three outlets tested high in February. One drinking source tested at 377 ppb, then tested at 84.2, while another tested at 203 and 24.5 ppb. Another source nearly tripled on its second test.
Other results for tests taken in 2017, were the main campus of Bowie High where two water sources were found with high concentrations of lead and shut down, Heather Hills Elementary (two sources), High Bridge Elementary (two sources), Pointer Ridge Elementary (two sources), Yorktown Elementary (one source) and Chapel Forge Early Childhood Center (one source).
Nearly every outlet that tested high was tested again to ensure accuracy and determine if replacing the fixture solved the problem. Schools that tested high at first, but passed subsequent tests, were Tall Oaks Vocational (four sources), Whitehall Elementary (one source) and Rockledge Elementary (one source).
“A lot of the fixtures in old buildings have lead in them,” schools spokesman John White said. “So we replaced fixtures where the water might test high, then we retest the water.”
Sources that remained high after testing were shut off and capped, White said. Only drinking water sources were tested. Signs are posted to not drink non-potable water.
The latest round of tests satisfies the requirements laid out under a new law that states all public and nonpublic schools be tested by July 1, if they were built before 1988. Schools built after 1988 have until July 2019 to submit test results.
Northview Elementary School, which is a little more than a decade old, tested nearly perfectly, with just three of 128 sources testing for trace amounts of lead, which was under the county’s threshold.
The county is taking additional steps by installing multiple filtered water fountains in every school. Installations began at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
“We want to provide that additional layer with the filtered water fountains because we know students and staff will often want to refill bottles,” White said.
A timetable for all Bowie schools to be outfitted with filtered water fountains was not immediately available.
School board member Raaheela Ahmed, who represents each of the affected schools, could not be reached for comment.
Via Capial Gazette