Virginia receives an ‘F’ in school water quality; Carson staff and students respond


Katya Loidap Eighth-grade student Andrea Miller drinking from the water fountain

Katya Loidap, Writer

Virginia was one of the 22 states out of 32 states tested that received an “F” in school water quality, according to a report done by Environment America.

A 2019 study conducted by Environment America–an organization focused on keeping our country healthy and raise awareness about important environmental issues–tested the school water in 32 of 50 states across America for lead after the Flint, Michigan, crisis.

The report came back to rank over half of the states tested, including Virginia, with an “F.”

“I haven’t had issues with the water quality [at school],” said Mr. Gordon Stokes, principal of Rachel Carson. “I drink out of the water fountains all the time; I fill up my water bottle from the bottle fillers. I think it’s good that we have that sort of access here.”

RCMS, along with hundreds of other government facilities throughout Fairfax County, use Fairfax Water, a program used to manage the water sources running through our pipelines.

Kirk Treakle, president of the Going Green Club at Carson, says, “They [Fairfax Water] have a great track record and test the water regularly. They have state-of-the-art facilities.”

Mr. Stokes also said Carson’s water is checked on a regular basis.

“I want to say [Carson has a water check] at least annually,” he said. “They [Fairfax Water] might do it more times during the year, and then I think if there’s ever an issue, not just in our school but in our region, they’ll do something in that … period of time and check the water.”

Approximately two years ago, RCMS had an issue with a water fountains inside the school.

“They found that there was an elevated level of lead in that one particular source,” Principal Stokes said, explaining the steps that were taken to handle the situation. “They did a whole building-wide in depth assessment. Then  they replaced that particular unit and re-tested the whole building and determined that everything was good to go. They were very specific.”

Not every county in America, or even Virginia, requires the staff of schools with contaminated water to release to the public what happened.

Mr. Stokes said, “I sent a notice out to the community and said ‘Hey! This was found here, these are the steps that are being taken to ensure that the water is good.’ And after all the changes were made, I sent out another final message to say ‘Hey! This is what they determined, this is what steps were taken, if you have questions, here’s who to contact.’”

Mr. Stokes mentioned that he not only was required to send out the notice, but he also personally thought it was crucial to after seeing the effects of the crisis in Flint, Michigan.

A major factor of ensuring water quality is frequent and in-depth tests of pipelines and systems that receive water from outside sources. According to Principal Stokes, “The higher that standard is, the more it costs. That’s always a balance of what you are willing to pay to have that much better quality of water.”

Mr. Kirk agreed, stating, “You have over a million residents in Fairfax County, so think of all the houses, apartments, schools, businesses, stores, government centers, even athletic fields where they have water fountains. All those different places you’d have to test. It would be extremely expensive to test all of them regularly.”

Andrea Miller, 14, member of the Wolves team at Carson, has her own concerns about RCMS’s water quality. “Water should taste like nothing. Our water definitely tastes like something,” she jokes. “I am very worried about the water quality. It’s not clear how it’s supposed to be. [I think if we] find a better filtering system to filter out the chemicals [we’d be better off].”                

Katya Loidap
Eighth-grade student Andrea Miller fills her water bottle.

Experts hypothesize that at least 24 million American children will be exposed to lead at some point, thus losing IQ points. Lead affects how our children learn, grow and behave. According to the EPA, “In children, low levels of [lead] exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.”

“No safe level of lead has ever been identified,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Furthermore, no federal law states that schools have to test their water for lead. A 2017 Virginian law was passed which instructed all public schools in VA built in 1986 or earlier to test for lead but it never specified that the school must disclose the information they found to the public. FCPS is still in the process of implementing the law.

“Besides air, as human beings and most animals, we need [water] to survive. You can’t really go even three or four days maximum and then you’ll die of dehydration,” commented Mr. Treakle. “It causes brain damage. It’s especially dangerous with children because their brains are still forming and growing.”

Since Carson is a school full of children with brains that are still developing, the prominence of ensuring good water quality is much higher than in a building of adults. 

“Until proven otherwise, because of the frequent testing that Fairfax Water does, I think that we can assume that it’s safe to drink,” Mr. Treakle stated.