Elevated levels of lead and excessive lead contamination were recently detected in water fountains at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Downtown D.C. and six other neighborhood libraries according to a report released June 22. Fountains at Lamond-Riggs and Southwest sites, as well as sinks at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency safe levels.

Library officials received the test results June 14 and shut down the seven contaminated sources that day, including a water fountain near the third-floor women’s restroom of the MLK Library which registered 192 parts per billion – more than 12 times the federal limit, according to D.C. Public Libraries (DCPL) spokesman George Williams. In a statement, Williams reported filters had been installed on all seven sources, and three were returned to service after a new round of testing found them to be beneath the limit of 15 parts per billion.

“If the filter doesn’t create a safe level of lead in the water, then an additional step will be taken,” Williams said, adding that officials are not sure of the cause of contamination. Remediation could include replacing piping or fountain parts.

Milton Harvey, a regular visitor to the Southwest branch library told the AFRO that while he is disappointed with the lead results, he is pleased that DCPL administrators took proactive measures to fix the problem. “I ride my bicycle here and often drink from the fountain or fill up my water bottle from the fountains, so I was a bit panicked when I received an email from the library system saying contamination had been found,” Harvey said. “I commend them for alerting me to the dangers, covering the fountain, and making the public aware of additional results.”

A letter to library users from DCPL Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan said the safety of library patrons and their families was important and that re-testing would occur periodically to ensure the lead issues were resolved. “The Library immediately shut off the sources that registered above the actionable level and posted signs informing residents not to drink from these sources,” Reyes-Gavilan said. “If a high level of lead or any other unsafe substance is found, steps are taken immediately to prevent library users and staff from drinking the water.”

Installing the filters and implementing the new limit will cost nearly $2 million initially and then $1.5 million annually to regularly test and maintain water sources, according to Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue. Donahue said the city plans to install filters at all public schools, libraries, and recreation centers regardless of test results by the end of the year. “Lead exposure in children is preventable, and we will be working diligently to set policy at our facilities that goes far beyond EPA standards,” Donahue said in a statement.

D.C. residents can find the results of lead testing at all D.C. public libraries at dclibrary.org/lead.