7 On Your Side: Tapped with trouble

7 On Your Side: Tapped with trouble (ABC7)

Do you have any idea if the water at your child's school is safe to drink?

7 On Your Side did some digging and the I-Team has discovered some alarming results.

The I-Team obtained water test results of 12 area school districts—from Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland.

The 12 school districts include:

  • Alexandria City Public Schools
  • Arlington County Public Schools
  • Calvert County Public Schools
  • Charles County Public Schools
  • District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Fairfax County Public Schools
  • Falls Church City Schools
  • Frederick County Public Schools
  • Loudoun County Public Schools
  • Montgomery County Public Schools
  • Prince George’s County Public Schools
  • Prince William County Public Schools

ABC7 News discovered half of the districts had high lead levels.

One mom, who we won't identify, is livid after elevated lead levels were discovered in the Prince George's County Public School district.

“I'm just in total and complete shock that this has happened. Earlier this year, I think it was March, the water was yellowish brown," she said.

Medical experts say elevated levels of lead can cause problems in behavior and lower IQ levels.

For months, I-Team Investigative Reporter Scott Taylor asked Prince George's County School CEO Kevin Maxwell for an on-camera interview regarding the high levels of lead in the district. Maxwell refused, so the I-Team tracked him down right before a school board meeting.

“Hi, Dr. Maxwell. I'm Scott Taylor with ABC7 News. I want to ask you a couple of questions on camera," said Taylor.

"No, I can't. I am getting ready for a board meeting. John," responded Maxwell.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) agree—there's no safe level of lead in a child's blood.

Prince George's County recent tests show more than 100 water sources, which could include classroom sinks or water fountains, have high lead levels. One hit at more than 2,800 parts per billion which is sky high compared to the EPA's warning level of 15 which was set back in 1991.

"A lot of parents have questions on why you haven't tested since 2009?" Taylor asked Maxwell.

"We have and we have it all on the website," said Maxwell.

"You haven't tested all of your schools. You won't test them until January. You are drinking bottled water. Do you drink out of the water fountains?" said Taylor.

Before this year, Falls Church City Public Schools last tested its entire district back in 2004.

So far this year, Prince William County discovered 57 water sources in schools with high lead levels out of more than 2100 tested.

Fairfax County Public Schools recorded elevated lead levels at four schools this year.

7 On Your Side showed our findings to Dr. Marc Edwards. He is a member of the Environmental Engineering Team at Virginia Tech who exposed the Flint, Michigan water crisis.

"These problems do get worse with time. This is something new that we just recently discovered," said Edwards. “These are our latest rounds of samples from Flint just seeing how the system is recovering."

He believes the EPA needs to lower its lead warning level of 15 parts per billion. It's 26 years old.

"There is no doubt the standard is out of date but frankly I would be happy if we would be meeting this out of date lousy standard and we're not," said Edwards.

Does EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt think it should be lowered?

ABC7 News doesn’t know because Pruitt declined our interview request, but that's not stopping DC Public Schools who just lowered its warning level to five parts per billion after discovering elevated levels last year.

Edwards adds districts including those in our research need to stop playing Russian Roulette with students by flushing water fountains between tests hoping for a lower result.

"Having a tap test high and flushing it and sampling after flushing and finding it's lower… that doesn't prove anything except you got lucky on that day you got a low sample. Will the next child who drinks from that tap be as lucky? Most parents wouldn't want to risk that," said Edwards.

Taylor headed to Baltimore, Maryland, where the city school district is investing $450,000 a year to make sure its students are drinking water that's safe.

Ten years ago, the Baltimore City School District turned to all bottled water, but now is investing into high tech filtered water fountains.

"We think that's a game changer. It looks good and it's going to provide clean and safe water and we are pretty enthusiastic about it," said J. Keith Scroggins, chief operating officer of the Baltimore City Schools District.

Meanwhile, in Prince George's County, the I-Team is still trying to get some answers.

Taylor spoke to John White, a public information officer for PG County Public Schools in relation to CEO Maxwell.

"I've asked repeatedly for his interview and I have gotten a no," said Taylor.

"I will make sure we get you an interview and we will update you accurately," said White.

"That sounds great," said Taylor.

ABC7 News is still waiting for Maxwell to sit down on-camera and answer Taylor’s questions.

Currently, many schools in the Prince George’s County School District are using bottled water for students and staff.

Here’s how you can protect your child:

  1. Ask your school district to put all its lead testing results up on its website.
  2. Ask your school district to lower its lead action warning level from 15 parts per billion to zero parts per billion.
  3. Find out how your school district is testing for lead in its water. Are they shutting down a water source after it tests high or are they flushing it and if levels are below EPA guidelines are they re-opening it for use?

Here is a link to your School District’s water test results:

Alexandria City Public Schools:

Arlington County Public Schools:

Charles County Public Schools: Documents attached in photo gallery

Charles County Public Schools continued:

Charles County Public Schools continued:

Charles County Public Schools continued:

Charles County Public Schools continued:

Charles County Public Schools continued:

Charles County Public Schools continued:

Calvert County Public Schools:

District of Columbia Public Schools:

Fairfax County Public Schools:

"Dear Mr. Taylor,

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) completed its lead testing and we wanted to provide you with the summary of the results. FCPS initiated a sampling program on September 20, 2016, to ensure the drinking water was safe at all schools. The sampling program was conducted by an independent firm hired by FCPS, following federal and state guidelines. There are no regulatory standards that govern FCPS school facilities concerning lead-in-drinking water, since FCPS is not a drinking water provider. Under the "Lead in Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Facilities" technical guidance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends potable water sources not exceed a level of 20 parts per billion (ppb), the EPA action level. The testing was performed to determine if elevated levels of lead were present in sampled potable water sources at all school buildings. The water sources included fountains, and dual handled sinks that are frequently used for potable water.

On May 13, 2017, the sampling of potable water in all schools was completed. Of the 1631 samples analyzed, seven (7) samples or 0.43 percent of the total samples taken exceeded the EPA action level. Elevated lead samples were detected at one (1) secondary school, one (1) middle school, and two (2) elementary schools. Upon the identification of any elevated water source, that water was immediately shut-off and not used until the water source was investigated, mitigated, and retested. All elevated water sources were removed and replaced, with resampling results falling well below the EPA action level.

During this process, FCPS worked with the Fairfax County Health Department during each of the elevated lead level detections. Messaging related to the elevated lead levels went out to each of the respective school communities which included a family letter, a frequently asked questions document, and references to the EPA web site, where detailed information could be found on the topic.

A review of all of the result data revealed that 1482 samples (91 percent) had lead concentrations below the laboratory limits of detection or less than 1 ppb. For all of the 1631 water samples, the average lead result was 1.34 ppb, well below the EPA action level of 20 ppb. All test results are within EPA safe limits, and our water is safe to drink. In School Year 2017-2018, FCPS will continue to sample for lead in water as defined in new Virginia state legislation on potable water testing contained in Senate Bill 1359.


Brandynn Reaves

FOIA Officer

Office of Communications & Community Relations

Fairfax County Public Schools"

Falls Church City Public Schools:

Falls Church City Public Schools documents continued:

Frederick County Public Schools:

Loudoun County Public Schools:

Montgomery County Public Schools:

Montgomery County Public Schools documents continued:

Prince George’s County Public Schools:

Prince William County Public Schools:

This story has been updated Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017

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