Local water tests turn up elevated levels of lead

WASHINGTON– Hundreds of water systems nationwide, including some in our region, have tested above federal limits for lead at least once since the beginning of 2013, according to an Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data. The list includes 32 locations in Maryland, 40 in Virginia, and none in D.C.

Locally, WTOP found three schools and part of a military installation on the list. In every local case, we found that careful steps have been taken to resolve the problem.

A federal regulation that took effect in 1991 established what’s called an action level for lead in the water of 15 parts per billion.

If tests conducted at more than 10 percent of homes served by a water system exceed that action level, then the system must take steps to reduce lead levels and it must inform customers.


Laytonsville Elementary School, Montgomery County, Md.

In 2014, a test of the water at Laytonsville Elementary School, a public school in Montgomery County that relied on well water, was found to have lead levels of 60 parts per billion.

But that was not a health issue, because for many years the school has been providing students with bottled water for drinking and in some situations, hand washing too.

“Our records show as far back as 1998, but we’ve been told that it goes back even further than that.  Decades,” Derek Turner with Montgomery County Public Schools tells WTOP.

Last summer, the school finally made the switch away from well water, and became a customer of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

But students are still using bottled water for drinking, and for budget reasons, that may continue for the foreseeable future.

“Installing drinking fountains can take time and cost money, so we might find that it could be more effective to continue with bottled water,” Turner says.


 The Jefferson School, Frederick County, Md. 

In Frederick County, Maryland, a water sample taken at The Jefferson School in 2014, found elevated lead levels.

The special education and residential school is part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System.

Sheppard Pratt’s Jessica Kapustin tells WTOP via email that a test of the water in a wash sink in the school’s finance office turned up lead levels of 186 parts per billion.

“No students or children came into contact with this water source, and it was actually a piping issue and not a water issue,” she writes.

The sink was quickly removed after the test results came back.

At that same time, water in numerous other parts of the school tested well below federal limits.

“Since that isolated issue, our water has tested fine and we are in complete compliance with the MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment) and the EPA,” Kapustin writes.


Indian Creek Lower and Middle School, Montgomery County, Md.

A third school, Indian Creek Lower & Middle School in Crownsville, also tested above federal limits a few years back.

The 2014 test found lead levels of 25 parts per billion.

Staffmember Maggie Melson tells WTOP in an email that immediately after learning the results, the school turned off its drinking fountains and provided students with bottled water.

“As recently as March 2016, the school completed our third consecutive, and successful, test showing no detectable levels for lead and no elevated levels for copper other metals and contaminants for our evergreen campus,” she writes.

Melson says the school has installed new, filtered drinking fountains.

“Indian Creek School has gone above and beyond MDE’s requirements in order to improve not just the makeup of our water, but the taste and quality. We have installed filtration and upgraded Elkay water fountains with bottle filling stations, and have installed new drinking faucet fixtures, all filtered. We want our children, faculty and staff, and community to not only feel safe drinking the water, but to enjoy it, and to be advocates for environmental sustainability by avoiding drinking bottled water,” writes Melson.


Fort Belvoir North Area

In 2013, a test of the water in the non-residential Fort Belvoir North Area found lead levels of 36 parts per billion.

Joe Richard with Fort Belvoir tells WTOP when that test result came in, immediate steps were taken.

“Water lines were flushed, the systems were cleared and treated, and monthly testing of the water was and continues to be conducted,” says Richard.

“The spike [in lead levels] was eradicated within two months,” he adds.

A recent water test in the Fort Belvoir North Area showed lead levels at .028 parts per billion.

A separate test of the Main Post area of Fort Belvoir found lead levels at or below 1.13 parts per billion.

“We can say with complete confidence that the drinking water on Fort Belvoir is safe, and our testing protocols are transparent and they do meet all EPA, state and local standards,” he says.

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Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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