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9 schools in rural Maine have elevated lead levels

AUGUSTA, Maine — Nine schools— all located in rural Maine — have unsafe drinking water because of high levels of lead.

More than 11 percent of the Maine schools and daycare facilities that are required to be tested for lead had unsafe levels between 2013 and 2015, according to an analysis of test results by The Associated Press.

The schools are tested at least once a year because they’re among the 285 schools in Maine that source their water from local wells. Sixteen of the 25 schools with elevated lead levels have worked to bring their lead levels to standards the federal government considers safe.


Nine schools, however, still have lead levels above the 15 parts per billion ‘‘action level’’ designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Test results above that threshold alert state officials to take ‘‘prompt and appropriate early interventions,’’ said Kenneth Albert, director and chief operating officer of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The issue is not the water in the wells but the lead in pipes inside the buildings and whether the water is treated so it’s less corrosive, he said.

Schools that get water from public water districts are not required to be tested. Public water districts, however, are tested routinely.

The schools with elevated lead levels can take a number of measures, such as replacing water lines, closing off faucets with problematic water lines and adding chemicals to the water to prevent lead leaching from pipes welded with lead solder, a common practice before 1987.

At the Coastal Christian School in Waterboro, which had lead level of 17 parts per billion in July, there’s a ‘‘no drinking’’ sign on the hallway water fountain. The school provides bottled water to students and staff, and many students also bring bottled water from home.


Principal Dorcelle Brown said she’s working with the state to lower the lead levels by fixing the school’s water treatment equipment.

‘‘Everybody is working on it,’’ she said.

The other schools under the state monitoring program are: Dedham Elementary School, First United Pentecostal Church in Augusta, Little Tykes II Child Care in Standish, MSAD 52 Alternative/Administrative School in Turner, Palmyra Community Center, RSU 12 Somerville Elementary School, RSU 13 Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston and Standish Baptist Church.

Dina Page, water quality manager for the Bangor Water District, said municipal water districts are better equipped to ‘‘manage the science’’ of water treatment than schools and households on private wells. Municipal water districts, such as the Bangor Water District, put sodium carbonate in the water to reduce the acidic levels and prevent the lead solder from leaching into the water.

After Bangor detected lead levels of 46 parts per billion in 2011, it increased the amount of sodium carbonate it added to the water. In its last test this summer, the results were 4.1 parts per billion — well below the federal threshold.

Nearly half of the state’s households get their water from private wells. Albert said homeowners should test their wells for annually for lead, as well as other chemicals, such as arsenic and uranium.