Montgomery County school officials said yesterday they will begin providing bottled drinking water at five elementary schools where water contains lead levels that exceed federal safety guidelines.
Tests at the schools, Lake Seneca, Flower Hill, Bradley Hills, Washington Grove and Oakview, show that the drinking water contains 1 1/2 to six times the acceptable levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency, said Dr. Donald Swetter, chief of the Montgomery County Health Department.
The EPA's acceptable level for lead in water is .05 milligrams of lead per liter of water, or five parts per million.
As an added precaution, Swetter recommended that parents of preschool and elementary school children living in houses built in the last 3 1/2 years flush their pipes for two minutes twice a day to remove high concentrations of lead from their drinking water. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults because of their lower body weights.
Health experts cautioned, however, that the high lead concentrations at the schools do not pose an immediate threat to students because they would have to drink 12 glasses of water a day over a period of 20 years to feel the effects of lead poisoning.
"That's a lot of water for a little kid to take," said Susan Guyax, a sanitarian with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
She said lead in the schools' drinking water could be a problem if a child also were exposed to lead from other sources, like lead paint often used in older homes.
Swetter said there have been no reported cases this year of any children suffering from lead poisoning.
Some signs of lead poisoning are paleness, irritability, fatigue, sleep disturbances and mental regression, he said.
The Washington Surburban Sanitary Commission recently revealed that lead has been leaking into drinking water from a lead solder that is used in copper pipes in some recently constructed houses.
The five Montgomery County schools with high lead levels were built or renovated in the last two years.
In April the county banned the use of lead solder and as of June 16 lead solder will be banned in Maryland, officials said. Virginia also has banned lead solder.
High levels of lead at the five schools were discovered after water was flushed from the pipes in the morning, a measure health state officials had hoped would solve the problem. School officials said that use of bottled water in the affected schools is a precautionary measure.
School system spokesman Bill Henry said the school system will spend $7,000 to supply the bottled water to the schools until they close for the summer on Wednesday.
He said the the school system also is considering other measures to correct the problem, including steam cleaning pipes to remove the lead or creating an open tap outside so that water in the building will be flushed continuously.
Michael Wojton, head of the technical support services section of the division of water supply with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said his office will soon begin testing statewide for lead in recently built or renovated schools.
In Prince George's County, five schools were found to have lead levels that exceeded EPA standards but the problem was corrected after officials began flushing the pipes daily, said school spokeswoman Jacquelyn Lendsey.
Staff writer Beth Kaiman contributed to this report.