ANNAPOLIS – When Rita Howarth’s daughter experienced her third fainting spell at age 3, she couldn’t tell the doctor her daughter had been exposed to water contamination at Fallston Pre-kindergarten in Harford County.
The pre-kindergarten, part of Fallston Presbyterian Church, she said, was notified about the water contamination in May 2002, but failed to tell parents.
“They should have let me know,” said Howarth.
Howarth testified before the Senate Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Tuesday for a bill to require facilities caring for children to notify parents of water contamination.
The bill would require public schools, non-collegiate private schools, family day care centers and child care centers to send parents written notification within 10 days after learning of contamination from water suppliers.
“The parents need to know,” said the bill’s main sponsor Sen. J. Robert Hooper, R-Harford.
Calls requesting comment from the Fallston Presbyterian Church and pre-kindergarten were not returned Tuesday.
Maryland Department of the Environment records show it told the pre-kindergarten of the detection of MTBE in the drinking water in May 2002, but parents would not receive a letter until April 2004. MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, is a gasoline additive commonly used to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels in auto emissions.
Maryland Department of the Environment adopted an action level of 20 parts per billion. Originally MTBE was detected at the site at 8.2 parts per billion in 2002. By March 2004, MTBE was detected at 229 parts per billion, nearly 11 times the action level.
Since parents were not notified about the contaminated water, Howarth said she continued to use it, one time fixing a spaghetti dinner with the toxic water at the pre-kindergarten.
Another parent, Caroline Shea said her 4-year-old experienced headaches in 2003 and she did not find out about the MTBE poisoning until she turned on the news almost a year later.
“We were severely let down,” said Shea. “This shouldn’t have happened.”
It is unknown whether the children’s illnesses were related to the contaminated water use.
An amendment to the bill would require the Department of the Environment to let school facilities know in writing that their water is contaminated, said Hooper.
He said that members of the Fallston Presbyterian Church said they were not always contacted in writing about elevated MTBE levels.
Another amendment, by Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, would require child care facilities to tell parents their plan of action after notification.
The response could be as simple as using bottled water the next day, said Hooper.
Julie Oberg, spokeswoman of the Maryland Department of Environment, said that the department does not have an opinion on the bill and that the bill could affect one or two schools a year.