Shaun Frazier, left, and Keith Burgess of Norlen’s Water Treatment in Orrington work to install a 10-chamber filtration system at Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor on Tuesday. The system is intended to eliminate PFAS from the water. In July, the school recorded levels of 85 parts per trillion, significantly higher than the state’s standard of 20 parts per trillion. Faith DeAmbrose/Mount Desert Islander

More than a half dozen schools around the state will start the year with a new concern: so-called “forever chemicals” in their water supplies.

State-mandated water testing found the chemicals known as PFAS in some schools at levels higher than the maximum of 20 parts per trillion in drinking water. Filters have been installed at most of the schools where the chemicals were detected, although some school districts are still developing plans for how to deal with the findings. In some cases, schools can switch their water supplies to address the problem.

The state is still collecting water samples from schools and other sites, including water districts, nursing homes and some housing developments, and expects most to be collected and analyzed by the end of the year. The test results through mid-August can be found on the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Drinking Water Program website.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of thousands of manmade chemicals that have been used for decades in a vast array of consumer goods, including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and fabrics, waterproof clothing and grease-resistant food packaging. Called forever chemicals because of how long they take to break down, the compounds have been linked to compromised immune and cardiovascular systems, decreased fertility, low birth weights and several types of cancer.

In Maine, PFAS also have been found in farm fields and nearby wells because the chemicals can find their way into waste streams, including sludge generated from wastewater treatment that has been applied to fields as fertilizer. Dairy herds that have grazed on fields treated with PFAS have tainted milk, and PFAS also have been detected in fish and deer.

Some of the schools where PFAS were found are in the midcoast and two are in Greater Portland – Chebeague Island and Lebanon.


The Portland Water District, which supplies drinking water to many towns and cities in southern Maine, said recent tests show no PFAS in its water, meaning that most schools in the area are likely clear of the chemicals.

In Bar Harbor, school officials have finished installing a filter system that should eliminate the PFAS in Mt. Desert Island High School’s drinking water, detected in a test in the spring, Michael Zboray, superintendent of the Mt. Desert Island Regional School System, said Tuesday.

For Zboray, it’s his second go-around with PFAS. He was superintendent in nearby Trenton last year when PFAS were detected in a school. The state required the district there to do early testing because one of the schools was located near an airport. High levels of PFAS are found in the fire-fighting foam used at airports and military bases.

In both schools, Zboray said, the reaction was the same: bring in bottled water for students and staff to drink, and then look into filters to clean up the drinking water.

“I knew what we had to do and we jumped right on it,” he said. Zboray hopes the system at Mt. Desert Island High School works as well at filtering out PFAS as it did in Trenton.

“It should get us close to zero, from what I’m told,” he said.


Students will start school, which begins next week, with bottled water, Zboray said, and switch to the regular drinking water system once the final test results are back, which he expects by the first week of September.

Officials are installing a dozen filters, he said, and have been able to get them all installed and running during the summer, meaning there’s been little disruption to school activities. The cost of about $30,000 is being covered by a state grant, Zboray said.

Chebeague Island School also has installed a filter system to deal with high levels of PFAS, said Anne Kirkpatrick, principal and superintendent of the school, which has 10 students.

Kirkpatrick said school officials aren’t speculating on the source and just want PFAS out of their drinking water. Zboray said officials in Mt. Desert are also unsure how PFAS got in the school drinking water come.

“Nobody wants chemicals in their water,” Kirkpatrick said.

The school, which will start up the day after Labor Day, has just three classrooms, a break room, a kitchen and an office, she said, and was able to get by with a small filter system that cost about $5,000. School officials are still looking into grant programs to pay for the filter.

State officials say there should be grants available to pay for filters for schools where tests show a high level of PFAS.

The testing system will continue through the end of the year, the state says, and officials are studying the figure of 20 parts per trillion as the line on allowable levels of PFAs. The Legislature has told officials in the Maine Drinking Water Program to settle on a permanent figure for allowable PFAS levels by June 2024, although federal officials also are working on establishing a limit, which might supersede the state’s limit.

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