DC enacts tougher water standards at schools, parks

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WASHINGTON -- The District of Columbia government announced it will begin implementing tougher standards for testing the levels of lead in the water in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and Department of Parks and Recreations (DPR) centers.

Under the current policy, drinking water sources the tested at or above 15 parts-per-billion (PPB) would be fitted with a filter or taken out of service.

15 PPB is the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended action level.

However, the Department of General Services will now set that threshold at 1 PPB, a new standard recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"We’ll be installing filters in all sources of drinking at these facilities as well," Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue said.

The project is expected to cost an initial $2 million, and will include filter installation in District of Columbia Public Charter Schools (DCPCS) and District of Columbia Public Libraries (DCPL).

The installation process is expected to take between four to six months. Afterwards, an annual cost of $1.5 million is expected for testing, maintenance, and supplies.

The announcement came as a joint hearing on the issue of elevated levels of lead in drinking water in public buildings was held by the D.C. Council Committee on Education and the Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

"You’re just playing Russian roulette with our water fountains. And who knows whose kid is going to walk up and drink from that water fountain next,” said Keya Chatterjee, a parent of Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan students.

The issue came to parents' attention a few months ago when parents at several D.C. schools, including Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan, found out about elevated levels of lead in the drinking water at their children’s school.

But they found out months after the testing, and through other parents, not the school or government.

After the initial discovery, all DC Public Schools were tested and a total of 12 found sources of elevated lead levels in the water.

This lead to testing in all DCPCS locations, where there were 20 schools that had some elevated findings; DCPL locations, where there were four libraries that had some elevated findings; and DPR locations, where there were 19 recreation centers that had elevated findings.

At the hearing, parents commended the move by DGS, but said they wanted more than new policy.

"We ask that you, the council, codify these steps in legislation. History has proven that promises aren’t enough,” said one parent.