About one-third of the sites sampled so far in Maine’s statewide testing of school water exceed the acceptable limit for lead, a finding in line with what state public health officials expected.

Lead gets into the water from pipes and plumbing fixtures. It can affect brain development, causing learning disabilities and behavioral problems in children, particularly those under 6, depending on how much of the water they drink and how long they have been drinking it.

Although most health officials say there’s no “safe” level of lead in the body, it’s difficult to eliminate it entirely, especially in older schools that have lead pipes, lead solder and lead in water fixtures. Maine set its acceptable limit for lead in drinking water at 4 parts per billion, which is stricter than the federal standard of 15 ppb.

The state passed a law requiring schools to test water for lead and is using a federal grant of slightly more than $1 million to pay for it. The program began on Oct. 1 and will run through May 31. School officials are required to share the test results with students, parents, teachers and school employees.

A full list of the results so far is available at maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/dwp/cet/documents/SchoolLeadResults.pdf.

The results vary widely, with a sink in Room 116 of Dr. Lewis S. Libby School, an elementary school in Milford, showing 3,460 ppb. At Oceanside High School in Rockland, one sink in Room 27 showed 1,590 ppb, while another sink in the same room had 2 ppb.


Previous surveys and testing programs in other states led Maine to predict that about 30 percent of the water in its schools would exceed the 4 ppb action level set by the state, said Amy Lachance, manager of the state’s drinking water program.

The school systems have until May to submit for testing and many schools in southern Maine have yet to do so. The state also will provide some follow-up testing in the fall, Lachance said.

Lachance said there’s no money in the state budget to fix the plumbing in schools with high levels of lead in the water, but the testing should help identify where problems exist. For instance, she said, school officials could use results that show high levels of lead in a particular water fountain to guide additional testing to determine the source of the lead and make efforts to remediate it.

That’s what officials in School Administrative District 51 have done at Greely High School in Cumberland, Superintendent Jeff Porter said.

“I think the law is a very good law,” Porter said. “We want to know if we have lead.”

Samples from dozens of sites around the school were collected – the results fill four pages of the state’s initial report – Porter said, and officials were eager to take advantage of the state’s programs.


“We went above and beyond,” he said, testing 174 different fixtures in the school. “We tested basically anything that had water.”

Porter said the results showed one particular area of concern – a water fountain near the school library where the test found 69.5 ppb.

Officials believe the source of the lead is in the fountain, which has been disabled. A new fountain is on order, Porter said.

A test on a sink in one of the science classrooms registered a high 66.7 ppb of lead and most of the fixtures that registered above 4 ppb are sinks, which won’t need to be addressed immediately because they don’t supply drinking water, he said. Fixtures that supply drinking or cooking water are of the greatest concern, he said.

Porter said a newsletter will be sent out to parents and staff Thursday with a discussion of the lead testing results and a link to the state page. He said water samples from the district’s middle school and elementary school will be collected and sent to the state next month.

Heather Perry, the superintendent of Gorham public schools, posted the results of lead testing for Narragansett Elementary School on the district’s website. In an interview Tuesday night, Perry said four school fixtures – drinking water fountains – at the K-5 school significantly exceeded the state’s benchmark of 4 ppb. Those included the school kitchen and three classrooms.


Water samples were taken from 28 fixtures at the school from Jan. 14-17. Perry said the district plans to retest the drinking water fountains to ensure the results were not an anomaly. Students are not allowed to drink from those fountains, Perry said.

State results also showed that two water fountains in the north lobby of Gorham High School have lead levels that exceed state standards. Perry said the district will develop a mitigation plan for all of its affected schools and keep members of the Gorham school community informed.

Lead levels exceeded the state benchmark at several drinking water stations at the Bath Middle School as well as at the Dike Newell Elementary school and the Fisher Mitchell elementary school in Bath. Attempts to reach RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel for an interview Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this story.

Clarification: This story was updated at 11:20 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, to clarify that Gorham High students aren’t allowed to drink from potentially lead-contaminated fountains.

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