New 'Q&A' Provides Information on Water Safeguards

April 16, 2004
Schools will be distributing to students, parents, and staff a new “Q&A” document that provides information in response to common inquiries regarding the ongoing effort to safeguard school drinking water.

The “Q&A” was produced by the Montgomery County Public Schools in cooperation with the Montgomery County Health Department.

The wide variety of issues addressed in the “Q&A” reflects the continuing concern about water safety, including whether children can use the restroom faucets to wash their hands (yes) and whether bottled water is necessary (no). The 15 items reflect the most often asked questions fielded by staff of the school system and the health department.

The document is available on the school system’s web site in English as well as Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and French. The English version is available as a PDF file at the link below. The following is text of the new Q&A.

Common Questions about School Drinking Water
Safeguards Regarding Elevated Levels of Lead

Is school water safe to drink?

Yes, school water is safe to drink after flushing for 15 minutes. Then the drinking water is free of any elevated levels of lead that may exist in the fixture or pipeline.

What is the process for ensuring school water is safe?

Every designated source of school drinking water is flushed for 15 minutes every four hours. The process begins before school opens in the morning and continues into the evening and on weekends while the building is available for public use. The process follows protocols established by the school system and the Montgomery County Health Department. The protocols are consistent with recommendations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What are the designated water sources?

Water fountains and bubblers in hallways and locker rooms are the primary sources of drinking water. Kitchen faucets also are sources of drinking and cooking water. Classroom water bubblers are available, on a limited basis and as approved by the principal, if the water flushing protocol is followed. (Exterior water faucets may be used for athletics, if the water is flushed following the established protocols.)

Who does the water flushing?

Water flushing is done primarily by school building services staff during the school day. On weekends and evenings, the flushing is continued by school system staff hired by the Interagency Coordinating Board for the Use of Public Facilities (ICB). Records are kept of each flushing.

Is bottled water necessary?

No, students and staff need not bring bottled water to school, but they can if they want.

What about school ice machines?

Ice from school ice machines should not be used in drinking water or beverages. However, the ice can be used in ice bags and to cool sealed drinking containers for school athletics and other activities.

Can restroom faucets be used for hand and face washing?

Yes, the faucet water in restrooms is safe for hand and face washing. Students and staff are strongly encouraged to wash their hands whenever they use a restroom.

How long will the water safeguards continue?

This is anticipated to be a long-term effort. The school system is working with the health department and other county, regional, state, and federal agencies to identify how and when the problems can be fixed, and how long the current flushing protocol will have to continue.

How big a problem is this?

The extent of the problem is unknown at this time. However, elevated levels of lead (exceeding 20 parts per billion) have been found in some water sources in every school tested thus far. Individual schools are being tested so that the problem can be clearly defined.

When will my school be tested?

The testing began with 20 sample schools. Another 20 schools have been added to the list. Eventually, every school will be tested. The process will extend into the summer.

Why is the testing taking so long?

The testing process is lengthy. It begins with the collection of water samples from each and every water source in a school. This begins before the building opens in the morning. Then the water samples are analyzed in the laboratory of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). The lab uses highly calibrated machines. The entire process takes five to eight days at a minimum for each school. Delays have occurred because of backlogs in the testing process.

Can schools conduct their own testing?

Private water testing is not recommended. The testing protocol established by the health department ensures that accurate and timely data are being collected and analyzed for each school. The testing protocols are consistent with EPA recommendations.

When will I know about the test results for my school?

Parents, students, and staff are informed of the results as soon as possible in letters from the school principal. The results also are being publicly announced.

Should my child be tested for lead exposure?

There is no recommendation for testing children for lead exposure as a result of problems with school drinking water in Montgomery County. However, if parents have concerns, they may contact a primary care physician, the school nurse, or the Public Health Services Information Line at 240-777-1050.

Where can I get more information?

Information updates are provided regularly on the school system’s website on water safeguards at [the link below].

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