High levels of lead detected in drinking water at Bath schools not a concern, says school official

Water tests found high levels of lead in drinking water at 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 had high lead levels. Morse High School has yet to release test results. John Terhune / The Forecaster

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

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

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead can leach into water as pipes and fixtures corrode over time. Because the water tested sat in the school’s pipes for more than a year, it showed a much higher lead concentration than if the fountains were regularly active, Richards said.

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

“The level of concern about the presence of lead in any faucet depends largely on the use of that faucet 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 devices that have not been used for several days or months.”

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

A water fountain at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick revealed the presence of lead. According to Principal Shelly Wheeler, the fountain has been disabled and taped since the start of the pandemic, and students now get their water from a separate service station in the community center building where students eat lunch. John Terhune / The Forecaster

“It’s for the sake of the children – period,” he said. ” It is obvious. You fix what’s broken.

Lead is especially dangerous in young children, according to Tricia Cote, program coordinator for the Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition at the University of New England, which raises awareness of the risks of lead poisoning. Although children who suffer from lead poisoning often do not appear ill, they do deal with long-term physical and mental effects.

“High lead levels can sometimes even feel like a learning disability,” Cote said. “They may have problems 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 above 4 parts per billion, which is the limit before the Maine CDC recommended replacing plumbing fixtures.

Twelve of 18 encounters at Dike-Newell School exceeded 4 ppb, while six of 16 exceeded the limit at Bath Middle School. The highest lead levels found in the district to date include a storage room sink at Fisher Mitchell School (282 ppb) and a drinking fountain near the gymnasium at Dike-Newell School (123 ppb) which Richards says has been inactive for several years.

Brunswick Public Schools and schools in SAD 75, which includes Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Harpswell, will complete testing in March, according to the superintendent’s offices in those districts.

A fountain on the ground floor of St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick has revealed the presence of lead. The fountain has been disabled and registered since the start of the pandemic, according to principal Shelly Wheeler.

Wheeler, who said the school plans to remove the water cooler, appreciates the state’s efforts to keep its students safe, but said it’s unfortunate the testing took place after school closed. so many devices.

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

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