By Brady DennisApril 30 at 5:54 PM Facing pressure, more schools scramble to confront dangers of lead in water.
Tests last summer showed troubling levels of lead in the water at Summit Township Elementary School, perched on a quiet hilltop outside Butler, Pa. But for the next five months, no one told the parents of Summit’s 250 students.
When officials alerted families to the potential lead contamination in January, the dominoes fell quickly. The district superintendent and assistant superintendent resigned. The school board hired an independent investigator. Administrators shuttered Summit and moved students to another building several miles away. And the mother of a kindergartner filed a federal lawsuit, saying the inaction had created “a school full of poisonous drinking water.”
Nearly two years after a water crisis in Flint, Mich., triggered renewed pressure for lead testing and remediation in schools across the country, many districts continue to stumble.
School systems throughout the country have wrestled with lead in water for decades, in part because of the intractable problem of lead-bearing fixtures and pipes in aging buildings. In addition, the overwhelming majority of schools face no state or federal laws that require testing, and crimped budgets and understaffed districts mean water testing seldom rises to a top priority.
"In Portland, Ore., irate parents demanded accountability last summer after the state’s largest district failed to immediately inform them about elevated lead levels detected in taps and fountains. The superintendent stepped down after the release of a scathing report that detailed the district’s failure to fix problems, and months later, Portland is still providing bottled water at its 90 schools — at an annual cost of about $850,000."
Prince George's County Water is Not Safe.
Q: What do our health agencies say about what a safe level of lead is in our water?
A: They state there is no safe level and 0 ppb is the health standard. However current regulations do not enforce this health based standard. Instead we have an over 25 year old regulation that does not ensure safety for our school children.
20-5000 ppb: Prince George’s County Fountains were turned off 2009- 2011 with these lead levels.
15-20 ppb: Prince George’s County Public Schools considers this “safe. ”
PGCPS has not been clear if they turned off fountains at 15 or 20 ppb but fountains with levels under 15 remained on.
In a 2016 letter PGCPS wrote stating that they were using the EPA action level of 15 ppb. In yet another letter they wrote stating they were using the action letter of 20 ppb. I have that detailed in full here. So we do not know which lead contaminant action level they been using for the last half decade? 15 or 20 ppb? In the most recent 2017 statement they wrote that in 2004 “2,516 (approximately 90%) found to be at or above the 20 parts per billion (ppb) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action level” and that “through follow-up quality control sampling, 87 fixtures were immediately remediated, retested and cleared for use” . The statement also states that in 2009 “5,238 (approximately 30%) found to be at or above the 20 ppb EPA action level and “Exempt fixtures, including hose bibs, lavatory faucets and custodial utility sinks, were removed from the total number of fixtures that tested above action level.” and “Fixtures that tested above EPA-recommended levels were taken out of service”. So it seems like the action level used by PGCPS was in fact- 20 ppb.
10 ppb: Prince George’s County Public Schools will ensure all new school construction is below this level in 2017 statement.
The PGCPS water quality page states that “During the construction of new schools, the water will be tested at the property line and from all drinking water sources. Any water that tests above 10 parts per billion (ppb) will be remediated.”
5 ppb: FDA limit for amount of lead allowed in bottled water.
1 ppb: American Academy of Pediatrics Recommends below 1 ppb for Schools.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Report on prevention of Lead Toxicity states "state and local governments should take steps to ensure water fountains in schools do not exceed water lead concentrations of 1ppb." Please download the AAP report by clicking here
0 ppb: EPA Maximum Contaminant Level Goal- A Health Standard- for Lead in Water Limit This EPA recommendation Is NOT enforceable.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. (ABC7) — Prince George's County Public Schools may have a problem with their water and 7 ON YOUR SIDE I-Team Investigator Scott Taylor has discovered many parents had no idea until now. The I-Team has uncovered Prince George's County Public Schools hasn’t completed a system-wide test of drinking water since 2009, even though the school district has been aware of on-going high levels of lead in the water since 2004.
7 ON YOUR SIDE originally asked for an on-camera interview with PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell, but we were able to sit down with the Director of Building Services Sam Stefanelli instead.
Three Things Parents Need to Know About the Water in Prince Georges County Schools.
1. Comprehensive testing of the lead in water has not been done in years and safety is not assured at this time. 2009-2011 water testing showed many water sources with various amounts of lead and because of the outdated limits used by PGCPS, many of these water sources are likely still turned on.
2. The current "water quality plan" plan by Prince George's County schools is allowing far too much lead in the water. Why? Because PGCPS is allowing 10 to 20 ppb (parts of lead per billion) in the water where as the American Academy of Pediatrics states the lead level should be at 1 ppb or lower. Washington DC public schools has a limit of 1 ppb.
Why is Prince George's County schools allowing 10 -20 times the lead in the water as our largest group of Pediatricians says is safe. Read what the American Academy of Pediatric Report recommends:
PGCPS should be following these expert recommendations. Read the Full Report Here.
Why is PGCPS allowing 10 -20 times the lead in the water as Washington DC public schools?
3. Parents were not informed that many of the water fountains in the 88 schools tested high for lead in 2009 and they still are not being informed that the current water supply may be unsafe. See below a screen save of a letter sent to me.
This was sent to gain clarity on the amount of lead PGCPS is allowing in the water.
Dear Dr. Maxwell,
I am writing to get information on what level of lead in the water (what ppb) PGCPS is using as their threshold for turning off the water. As I understand it, PGCPS is using an outdated level of 20 ppb as their cut off, and allowing toxic amounts of lead in the water.
In some letters to me you state that the County is using a lead in water cut off of 20 ppb and in other documentation you state it is 15 ppb. I would like some clarity. What is the level at which water is turned of in PGCPS schools?
Two examples of when PGCPS stated they are useing 15 ppb lead as the cut off.
In the list of schools with water taps shut off found here PGCPS lists the ppb of the last lead test for each tap AND no where do I see a lead level from 15 to 20 which implies that the lead level at which fountains were turned off is 20, not 15 ppb. After all, if PGCPS were using 15 then we would see lead levels of 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19 listed here with taps turned off. See an example here of the extremely high lead levels found in the fountains, yet none under 2. The column all the way to the right is the lead level at ppb:
So it seems like the action level used by PGCPS was in fact- 20 ppb.
Therefore, here are my specific questions: I am asking you these because of all the miscommunications in the past. Please answer each one.
What is the current lead in water ppb level at which PGCPS uses as it’s threshold of safety in terms of lead in the water.
What ppb was used in 2004 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2009 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2010 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2011 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2012 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2013 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2014 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2015 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2016 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2017 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
What ppb was used in 2004 as the cut off for safety in terms of lead in water.
After lead was found in water in 2009, were any taps turned off and at what lead level.
After lead was found in water in 2010, were any taps turned off and at what lead level. Please send the list.
After lead was found in water in 2011, were any taps turned off and at what lead level.Please send the list.
After lead was found in water in 2012, were any taps turned off and at what lead level.Please send the list.
After lead was found in water in 2013, were any taps turned off and at what lead level.Please send the list.
After lead was found in water in 2014, were any taps turned off and at what lead level.Please send the list.
After lead was found in water in 2015, were any taps turned off and at what lead level.
The current PGCPS website states that new construction will have a 10 ppb cut off. Am I correct?
What is the current ppb lead cut off for current buildings?
After we sent a public information Request, PGCPS sent the test results from March 2017. Here are the highlights:
1. The amount of Carbon Dioxide was at Neuro-TOXIC levels that can effect brain function according to recent research. Classroom K2 had from 1,287 ppm, Classroom 10 had 1,892, Classroom 7B had 2,200 and Classroom 4 had 2,346 ppm. The background outside air level was 466 ppm!
Levels over 900ppm are too high for health.
Research shows that high levels of carbon dioxide effects brain function, attention, memory and concentration. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that high CO2 levels -in the 1,000 parts per million concentration like in District Heights classrooms have a direct and negative impact on human cognition and decision-making. They found that, on average, a typical participant’s cognitive scores dropped 21 percent with a 400 ppm increase in CO2. Read the study here.
Research shows inadequate classroom ventilation, as evidenced by CO2 concentration exceeding 1000 ppm is associated with reduced school attendance.Read the study here.
"A number of studies have identified CO2 associated symptoms and
respiratory diseases such as sneezing, rales, wheezing, rhinitis, and asthma (Carreiro-Martins et al.
2014; Ferreira and Cardoso 2014). Other symptoms, cough, headache, and irritation of mucous
membranes, were also identified (Ferreira and Cardoso 2014). Lack of concentration was associated
with CO2 concentrations above 1000 ppm. Gaihre et al. (2014) found that CO2 concentrations
exceeding 1000 ppm is associated with reduced school attendance. Teachers also report neuro-
physiologic (i.e., headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating) symptoms at CO2 levels greater than
1000 ppm (Muscatiello et al. 2015)."
P.N. Bierwirth, PhD Read it here.
3. Several mold species were in District Heights Classrooms which can cause asthma like symptoms.
Testing shows Myxomycetes, Pithomyces, Cladosporium and Dicyma for example and clearly Classroom 4 had the worst air quality.
A study of the respiratory health of 4,600 children from six cities in the northeast USA demonstrated that the presence of mold and dampness in the homes were correlated to several respiratory symptoms as well as a number of non-respiratory symptoms. The effect was of similar dimension to parental smoking (Brunekreef et al., 1989). Two studies involving 15,000 children and 18,000 adults from 30 communities in Canada came to similar conclusions. The authors concluded that a non-allergenic mechanism was involved. A dose-effect was also seen in that more visible mold yielded more symptoms.
Overall the mold contamination was associated with a 50% increase in asthma and a 60% increase in upper respiratory disease (Dales et al., 1991a; 1991b). A large European study (Zock et al., 2002) including 38 study centres worldwide and 19,000 adults concluded that indoor mold growth has an adverse effect on adult asthma. Reported mold exposure in the last year was associated with asthma symptoms and bronchial responsiveness (OR range, 1.14-1.44). This effect was homogeneous among centers and stronger in subjects sensitized to Cladosporium species. As in the Canadian studies, the authors concluded that both allergic and non-allergic mold related effects were involved in the health outcomes. There is some evidence that exposure to environmental molds may play a role in asthma-related mortality (Targonski et al., 1995).
There're no federal standards for "safe" levels of mold. So when PGCPS states it is not breaking any standard, that is because standards are not set that have considered these health effects.
Q and A on Air Quality
What constitutes a “safe” level of mold?
In an air sample, mold counts should be equal to or below outdoor counts. There should be no stachybotrys. Not one spore. Aspergillus should be present only at negligible levels. The standard in Belgium requires no more than 2 1/2 percent aspergillus in the total count. However in District Heights Classroom 4 had 8% for example, much higher than Belgium allows.
Why is mold a problem?
Stachybotrys and other mold may produce several toxic chemicals called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins can be present in spores and small mold fragments released into the air. Once in the air, children and teachers and staff may breathe them into their lungs and have symptoms.
Why do we call this "toxic"?
Because any exposure that causes memory problems or brain problems or increased asthma issues is toxic! Kids cannot learn in toxic environments. Kids cannot learn when they are having respiratory issues.
Internal documents show mold was found in Samuel Chase Elementary classrooms in January 2015 and nothing was done for weeks! Children remained in the classrooms and got sick from this mold exposure. Parents were not notified until September 2015!
January 4, 2015- First request to clean the mold.
Then January 22 2015 an email is sent stating "the urgency of the matter"
Then February 9th- more than a month later PGCPS is asked when it will be fixed.
Then a February 24, 2015 email states the problem HAS STILL NOT BEEN RESOLVED.
Then a news story was done showing that a parent had been given information about mold that was removed. Read it here. at
Read this news story about a school district possible "cover-up" of the lead tainted water and subsequent lawsuit after a child tested positive for lead exposure.
"The lawsuit against the school district contends that Lumley and administrators concealed information for months that Summit Elementary School's water supply contained dangerous amounts of lead.
Further testing found E. coli bacteria in the well that supplies the school, prompting the building to be closed indefinitely. Students at Summit are attending classes in the shuttered Broad Street School until the water issues are resolved.
Jennifer Tait sued the district and Lumley after her daughter, Jillian, who attended Summit, tested positive for lead exposure. The case filed by attorneys Brendan Lupetin and Douglas Olcott seeks class-action status, which would let families of other students exposed to lead in the water join the lawsuit.
PGCPS did testing for water lead levels in PGCPS Schools and found high levels in many schools, including University Park. Were parents ever informed?
In the test results below from 2010, please note the high levels in the University Park gym water fountain. We would expect the children were regularly drinking from this water fountain. We are unable to find documentation showing what follow up was done to fix this and have written the county asking.
In 2008 a water fountain in Classroom 13 James Harrison had a lead level of 5000 ppb.
Were parents informed?
According to the information I have been sent, parents were NOT informed about these lead levels at that time. Why not?
This is an outrageous level of lead. One drink could cause irreparable harm to a child's developing brain. If I am reading this test correctly, - this is 5000 times what is safe!!!!
These children may have learning disabilities, ADHD symptoms and other health and psychological problems from drinking this watering parents are unaware of this lead exposure.
This testing was done in 2008 and the school district attempted to remediate the situation but water sources are still turned OFF at this school according to letters sent to me by PGCPS.
TEST RESULTS FROM 2008
Was testing done after the 2008 tubing replacements?
Testing was again done for some fountains in 2010 and still found high lead. However what about the other water fountains? Why were they not tested?
Testing was later done in July 2011 and this testing found high levels of lead. Why weren't all the water sources fixed?
Why was there still lead found after tubing was replaced?
was the water turned off whenever these lead levels were found?
Why weren't all water sources tested?
According to information I have been sent, the following taps are turned off at James Harrison 11, 13, 14, 15, 18, 22, 23- all permanently valved off. However what about the other fountains that tested for lead such as fountain 16. What was that fountain left on and when has it last been tested? What about the teachers lounge? Could they be using this water for coffee?