Water Quality and Safety

  • Ensuring the health and well-being of students and staff members includes providing safe, clean water for drinking and food preparation. In some of our schools, water pipes coming into the building or inside plumbing are old, raising concerns that they may contain lead that can transfer into the water supply as water flows through them. As a result, in the large majority of City Schools' buildings, bottled water is provided for drinking and cooking.

    As part of the district's plan to improve environments for teaching and learning, City Schools has installed state-of-the-art water filtration systems in some schools and upgraded plumbing in new buildings or those undergoing extensive renovation, either as part of the Capital Improvement Program or the 21st Century School Buildings Program.

    In the 2018-19 school year, 14 schools now have working water fountains and kitchen water supplies (though some areas — for example, in science labs — may still have water that is indicated as not suitable for drinking). These schools no longer receive bottled water for drinking or cooking. A further 5 schools use a combination of tap and bottled water, primarily with filtration systems installed at water fountains and bottled water used in kitchens. 

    Lead testing

    Under Maryland law link opens in new browser window, school districts must test water from "drinking water outlets" (e.g., water fountains, kitchen sinks) for lead contamination in schools that do not provide bottled water as the sole source of water for drinking or cooking. In spring/summer 2018, City Schools tested water in 13 of the 19 schools with working drinking water outlets. (The remaining 6 schools will open for students in September 2018 in newly constructed or newly renovated buildings. Water was tested in these schools in summer 2018, with test results currently pending.) The district also conducts annual testing in schools with water filtration systems to ensure ongoing safety.

    Test results. Tests conducted on water from drinking fountains at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School showed lead and copper above acceptable levels. Water used for cooking was also tested and found to be safe. The district believes the problem with the drinking water is caused by the age of the fountain fixtures. New fountains have been ordered. Once they are installed, the water will be retested. In the meantime, bottled water has been made available throughout the building for drinking. (update, September 17)

    Of the 13 schools tested in spring/summer 2018, 2 (Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School 237 and Leith Walk Elementary/Middle School) initially showed elevated lead levels in water from some sinks. Note: Water fountains were not affected; water from all fountains tested at safe levels. 

    Following protocols outlined by the state, water to the affected sinks at Highlandtown 237 and Leith Walk schools was turned off; in cases where that was not possible, signs were posted noting that the water in these locations is for hand-washing only. The district then flushed the water systems at both locations and performed follow-up tests. 

    • Results received on August 15, 2018, of samples from Highlandtown 237 showed no elevated lead levels.
    • Results received from Leith Walk also showed no elevated lead levels, with final results from all tests received on August 28.