Water Testing at Lower School

Dear Parents and Employees:

I hope you are well and enjoying the break from school. I am sorry to interrupt the summer but need to share information we have received regarding the quality of the water being drawn from several taps at the Bethesda campus. 

Last May, in accordance with a new Maryland law regarding the testing for lead in drinking water in schools, Sidwell Friends contracted with Apex Companies, a leading environmental testing firm, to sample water at the Lower School. We were surprised and disappointed to learn that 7 of 125 locations exceeded the acceptable lead concentration guidelines of 20 parts per billion (ppb) for drinking water. One of the seven sources—the drinking fountain situated next to the 2nd floor Math Room in Manor House—is the only location from which anyone would be expected to drink. Testing indicated a lead concentration of 26 ppb at this fountain.

Other taps that exceeded limits included exterior hose bibs on the Manor House and Groome Building, a janitor's closet sink in Manor House, and two Science Room sinks in the SAM Building.

 We are concerned about these results and are taking the following steps:

  1. Upon notification, we immediately shut off the water at the locations in question. Water at those locations will not be turned on again until the issue is fully addressed.
  2. Apex retested the seven locations to verify the readings and help us better understand how we might proceed with remediation. During the retest process, Apex conducted both "first draw" and "flushing" tests, which help to establish whether the problem stems from a fixture or piping in the system. The flush testing indicated that all sources in question were within acceptable limits, suggesting that any problems likely were localized to the specific fixtures named above. 
  3. We are currently contracting with professionals to replace affected hose bibs and fixtures and to install filters specifically designed to reduce lead.  We will retest the water quality in the fall and consult with experts to establish a regular testing schedule for the future that is consistent with best practices. State law requires testing to take place at least every three years.
  4. Apex performed comparable water testing on the Wisconsin Avenue campus earlier this week and we are awaiting the results. Although the District of Columbia does not require us to report them, we will advise the community if any sources exceed prescribed lead levels.  Again, working with experts in the field, we will establish a regular testing schedule consistent with best practices for the DC campus as well.
  5. Our goal is to replace the affected fountains and fixtures and complete installation of the new water filters on both campuses before the start of the 2018/19 school year.

The safety of our students and employees is our top priority, and I apologize for this situation and any concerns it has caused. Please know that the matter has our full attention and we are working closely with Apex and our facilities staff to remedy the issue expeditiously and to ensure that it does not recur. Should you have any specific questions about the test results or remediation plan, please contact Russ Friedson, Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations, at friedsonr@sidwell.edu, or 202-537-8122. Special thanks to Russ, and Ellis Turner, Associate Head of School (turnere@sidwell.edu; 202-537-8108), for leading the remediation efforts.

In addition, I have attached a copy of the official notice that the State of Maryland requires schools to provide to families. For further information about the Maryland law requiring the testing for lead in drinking water, visit this site.

Thank you for your time and attention. We will be sure to update you should there be additional developments. In the meantime, we will be working to be certain that we are prepared for a safe start to the school year.  

In friendship and with gratitude,

Bryan Garman
Head of School

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