Cutting lead in school water

Lead is a neurotoxin that, when ingested — say, through drinking water — is dangerous to all of us, but especially our children, with their developing brains.

Even very low levels of lead in kids are associated with behavioral and learning problems, hyperactivity, lower IQ, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.

That’s why I’m working to reduce the lead levels in our county’s public school drinking fountains.

Here’s some background:

In 2017, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 270, requiring all schools to test for lead in all drinking water outlets every three years.

Last year, Montgomery County Public Schools completed the initial testing and found lead levels higher than the state action level of 20 parts per billion (ppb) in at least one outlet in 86 out of 206 county schools. Some schools were found to have outlets with lead levels of 100 ppb or more.

MCPS has since fixed 97 percent of the outlets that had lead levels at 20 ppb or higher. MCPS does not, however, plan to address the outlets that had detectable lead levels below 20 ppb.

But two federal agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level goal of zero and an action level of 15 ppb.

Several jurisdictions in the area, including the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, have set their lead exposure levels much lower than that. D.C.’s action level is 5 ppb, while Prince George’s is 10 ppb — much lower than our county’s level.

That’s why I plan to introduce a bill on Feb. 5 to lower our county schools’ action level to 5 ppb. It would require the schools to remediate and conduct follow-up testing on drinking fountains with lead levels higher than this.

We have an absolute responsibility to protect the health of our children. They deserve public health protections that are at least as robust as those in our neighboring jurisdictions.