Water testing revealed elevated levels of lead in the drinking water of four local schools, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, but school officials promised the results were misleading.

Bath Middle School was one of three RSU 1 schools that showed elevated lead levels. Morse High School has not yet reported testing results. John Terhune / The Forecaster

The testing, mandated by a recently passed state law, revealed potentially dangerous levels of lead at Dike-Newell School, Fisher Mitchell School and Bath Middle School in Bath, as well as at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick. Yet school officials say the results were high because their building’s water fountains had been shut off for 18 months or longer before samples were taken.

“They haven’t been active since the beginning of COVID,” said Dave Richards, RSU 1’s director of facilities. “That was the recommendation of CDC: to shut them all down.”

Lead can leach into water as pipes and fixtures corrode over time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Because the tested water sat in the school’s pipes for well over a year, it showed a far greater concentration of lead than it would have if the fountains were regularly active, Richards said.

Robert Long, communications director for the Maine Center for Disease Control, said that explanation is plausible.

“The level of concern about lead being present in any faucet depends in significant part on what that faucet is used for and how often,” he wrote in an email to The Forecaster. “ It is not unreasonable for school officials to note that levels could be higher in older fixtures that have not been used for several days or months.”


Even though the test results are misleading, according to Richards, the district plans on replacing all fixtures that showed the presence of lead.

One water fountain at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick showed the presence of lead. According to Principal Shelly Wheeler, the fountain has been deactivated and taped off since the pandemic began, and students are now getting their water from a separate filling station in the community center building where student’s eat lunch. John Terhune / The Forecaster

“It’s for the good of the children – period,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer. You fix what’s broken.”

Lead is particularly dangerous in younger children, according to Tricia Cote, program coordinator at University of New England’s Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition, which raises awareness about risks of lead poisoning. Though children who suffer from lead poisoning often don’t appear ill, they face long-term physical and mental effects.

“High lead levels can sometimes even look like a learning disability,” Cote said. “They may have issues with learning or emotional regulation.”

At Fisher Middle School, 16 of 17 sinks and water fountains tested showed the presence of lead. Fourteen of the samples had lead levels greater than 4 parts per billion, which is the limit before the Maine CDC recommends replacing the water fixtures.

Twelve of 18 fixtures at Dike-Newell School were over 4 ppb, while six of 16 were over the limit at Bath Middle School. The highest lead levels found in the district so far include a storage room sink in Fisher Mitchell School (282 ppb) and a water fountain near the Dike-Newell School gymnasium (123 ppb) that Richards said has been inactive for several years.


Brunswick’s public schools and the schools of SAD 75, which comprises Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Harpswell, will complete their testing in March, according to the superintendent offices of those districts.

One fountain on the main floor of St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick showed the presence of lead. The fountain has been deactivated and taped off since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Principal Shelly Wheeler.

Wheeler, who said the school plans on removing the water fountain, appreciates the state’s effort to ensure the safety of its students, but said it was unfortunate the testing came after so many fixtures have been shut down.

“It’s an interesting time for the state to be testing lead in the water just because so many water fountains in schools have been sitting still for 18 months,” she said. “So I’m not surprised to see some of the water samples high in our school or any school.”


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