Some SAD 1 water fixtures test high for lead but students have safe drinking water

2 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Recent results of lead testing in SAD 1 schools show 16 percent of its water fixtures had levels above what Maine finds acceptable, though school officials confirmed no drinking water sources were affected.  

Out of 144 sinks tested throughout the district’s six buildings, the greatest number — 121 of them — showed no concerning levels, according to test results from A & L Laboratory in Auburn. But 23 fixtures measured above the 4-parts-per-billion limit at which Maine recommends stopping their use. Eight fixtures exceeded federal Environmental Protection Agency limits of 15 parts per billion.

School districts statewide started testing for lead following the Maine Legislature’s 2019 passage of An Act to Strengthen Testing for Lead in School Drinking Water. A law passed last year decreased the state’s acceptable lead content from 15 parts per billion to 4. Presque Isle’s testing results were far below those in some other parts of the state, but SAD 1 has some remediation work to do.

“The majority of the faucets that tested at high levels were not used on a regular basis,” Greenlaw said. “We are also doing followup testing on the faucets that tested high so we can have more accurate information regarding next steps.”

Drinking water fountains, water bottle filling stations and taps in kitchens and cafeterias all tested well below the EPA and Maine Center for Disease Control Drinking Water Program thresholds, according to a letter Greenlaw sent to parents and staff on April 13. Fixtures with high levels were in classrooms or teacher breakroom areas, the letter said. 

The district shut off taps that tested high when they received initial lab results earlier this month, Greenlaw said, and has not been notified of anyone who got sick due to lead exposure in district water sources.

At Mapleton Elementary, 10 of the building’s 26 sinks tested above the acceptable threshold. Greenlaw said many of the sinks are not used regularly due to a prevalence of water fountains and bottle-filling stations at the school.

“It could be that water does not regularly flow through these faucets and that the water was stagnant,” Greenlaw said. “We hope that the followup testing will give us more information regarding how best to remediate this issue at all of our schools.”

Elsewhere in SAD 1, A & L Laboratory results indicated Zippel Elementary School and Adult Alternative Education revealed no water sources that exceeded recommended safe lead levels. Presque Isle High School showed four taps affected out of 26; Presque Isle Tech Center, one out of 10; Presque Isle Middle School, two out of 22; and Pine Street Elementary School, six out of 27.

When plumbing is unused — such as over holidays or weekends — lead can slowly dissolve from pipes into the water. The longer it sits, the greater the chances are for lead to be present, according to the CDC’s remediation guide for schools. 

If a school’s initial testing reveals lead, it is likely either the plumbing or attached faucet contains lead components, according to the CDC. Schools need to obtain followup samples at both water outlets and incoming supply lines, including after flushing water through for 30 seconds.  

To permanently address lead problems, schools can elect to remove the fixtures from service, put up “do not drink” signs, install filters or use chemicals to prevent lead in the water, the CDC advised.