A state lawmaker from Chevy Chase hopes to replicate an effort in Montgomery County to reduce levels of lead in school drinking water by sponsoring a bill that would establish statewide standards.
Del. Jared Solomon, a Democrat, has introduced a bill that would set the standard for lead in drinking water at all public schools at 5 parts per billion —stricter than the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 15 parts per billion.
The freshman delegate’s bill mirrors a similar bill introduced by Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker. The county bill is scheduled for a public hearing later this month.
Solomon, whose proposal is being reviewed by the House Environment and Transportation Committee, said the bill came about following an outcry from parents, advocates and others in Montgomery County education community after a school system report released last summer found 86 schools with water that tested above the EPA lead limit.
“There was a lot of concern that we were leaving out a lot [of school systems],” he said. “I don’t think Montgomery County is unique.”
Solomon, who taught for two years in Baltimore City Public Schools, said many of the schools in that system have aging infrastructure that makes the drinking water unsafe. Since 2016, most schools have provided bottled water to students in place of the tap water.
“That’s certainly a location that really needs support,” he said.
The state requires all school systems regularly test water from drinking fountains, sinks and other outlets. Most recently, Anne Arundel County testing found 735 water outlets had lead above the EPA limit, of which 111 were used for drinking water.
The bill would establish a grant program from the State Department of Education to fund repairs and replacements.
A fiscal analysis of Solomon’s bill estimated that the upgrades would have a net cost of more than $1.7 million annually for the next five years. Solomon said the concept of his bill is based on a similar grant program in California that awards money to school districts for improving water quality.
“The state would provide grant assistance funds for the school districts to do their remediation,” he said.
Lead exposure has been linked to brain defects, learning problems and speech defects in children according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Laura Stewart, the vice president for advocacy of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, said she planned to testify at a hearing in Annapolis with a parent from South Lake Elementary School in Gaithersburg.
“The more protection you have for kids in Maryland, the less you do to their brain,” she said.
Stewart said in the past, Montgomery education advocates have faced difficulties in asking for state money due to the perception that the county is better off financially than other jurisdictions. But some county schools, she said, have as many as 80 percent of students who qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals.
“I think it is getting through that we have concentrated centers of poverty,” she said.
Stewart said criteria had not yet been set for how the schools with lead contamination would be awarded money. Solomon said he also wasn’t sure how the grant award process would work. He too said it was important to counter the perception that the county doesn’t have significant capital needs.
“We don’t want to leave Montgomery County behind, and if we can’t get it done at the state level this year, let’s get it done at the county,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org