- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) Water fountains have been ordered shut in all city schools more than a decade after they were discovered to be dispensing lead-tainted water.
The decision was made after school board members received a report showing that many drinking-water fountains were still operating and that bottled water had not been supplied as promised.
"Parents need to be alerted to the fact that their children are being placed in danger," said James Williams Sr., a PTA member who presented a report Jan. 27 on his investigation into the school system's water fountains.
Mr. Williams, the father of a Baltimore student who had lead-paint poisoning in the 1990s, said he visited about a dozen schools during the past several months to see whether children were still drinking from water fountains reported in the early 1990s to have high lead levels.
At nearly every school, Mr. Williams said, he found the fountains still operating even though they were reported to have water contaminated with lead at more than 20 parts per billion, the safety standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In some cases, principals didn't know the fountains were not safe, even though water-sampling reports were supposed to have been distributed to every city school more than 10 years ago.
Mark Smolarz, the system's chief operating officer, said last week that all school water fountains have been ordered shut and that water coolers will be placed in every school by the end of the month. This includes schools where the fountain water is reported to be safe.
"We have coolers in about 120 schools already," Mr. Smolarz said, "but we need to do it at all our schools."
School officials said that until recently no one had made sure the contaminated fountains were turned off.
"Let's get real," said board member J. Tyson Tildon. "This is health. This is so critical. It blows my mind. I thought this had been done three years ago."
Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said the report is an "example where something went wrong in the management of the school system."
The school district's "facilities managers have known about this for a long time," Miss Norton said. "This is a case where, when they found out something, they did nothing."

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