County Council sets new lead limit for school drinking water

By Lincoln Polan

The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed a bill May 7 that will reduce the amount of lead in students’ drinking water by 75 percent—from 20 parts per billion to 5 parts per billion.

Councilmember Tom Hucker sponsored the bill after MCPS conducted lead tests on water fountains that revealed that 86 out of the 208 MCPS schools had elevated lead levels. According to the previous MCPS regulation, water containing 20 ppb or more is considered elevated.

“Montgomery County has been following an outdated state limit, and we know much more about lead than we did when the state passed that old limit,” Hucker said. “Lead is extremely dangerous at almost any level.”

The County Council decided to change the limit to 5 ppb to match D.C. and PG County limits. According to a the New York State Department of Health, ingesting water with elevated lead levels can have dangerous side effects such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue and pain in the abdomen.

“Lead is a neurotoxin, and it lowers IQ,” AP Environmental Science teacher Kelly Garton said. “The acceptable amount is zero parts per billion.”

Although it would be ideal for our drinking water to be completely lead-free, a standard lower than 5 ppb is difficult to achieve, Councilmember Hucker said.

New water tests are already showing improvements after many of the faulty fountains in MCPS schools were replaced. Most of the new fountains are reported to have lead levels “much lower” than 5 ppb, he said.

“There’s really no safe level of lead, and the old state level was too high,” Hucker said. “We felt a need to create a safer level for Montgomery County to protect the students and adults in our schools.”