BOOTHBAY, Maine — High lead levels in the water at Boothbay Region High School and Boothbay Region Elementary School have prompted administrators to ban consumption of all water from the schools, undertake continued testing and work with the state toxicologist for information on potential health risks.
The contamination was discovered late last month after a high school student working on a project for an Advanced Placement class began investigating what she told administrators was an unpleasant taste in the school water, Shawn Carlson, assistant superintendent of the Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District, said Friday.
“We did the testing based on concerns she had raised with our maintenance director,” Carlson said. “She said, ‘The water doesn’t taste good, and a lot of the students don’t drink it.’”
Of 20 samples taken from 10 sinks and spigots in each of the two schools taken on March 25 and analyzed March 29, three failed federal water quality standards of 20 micrograms per liter (or parts per billion), Carlson said. According to data posted on the school district’s website, one high school sink tested at 230 micrograms per liter, more than 10 times the Environmental Protection Agency maximum.
Tests on April 1 and 2 of all fountains, taps and sources of potentially contaminated water at the two schools indicated that 27 sources at the elementary school and 20 at the high school were “above the recommended action level,” Carlson said.
In a letter to parents posted Thursday on the website, Superintendent Eileen King wrote that the schools have used bottled water and water coolers since March 30. Administrators have met with water district officials, discussed remediation and replacing fixtures and have contracted with Dirigo Engineering to develop a long-term plan to address water quality.
“In working with engineers and some other people giving us advice, it is likely … that the lead is getting into the water from fixtures,” Carlson said. “Where we’re at right now in terms of addressing the situation is to try to pinpoint where the problem is before we start tearing them out and replacing them.”
According to Carlson, because the schools are connected to the public water system, tests are not required within the buildings. The elementary school was built in 1977 and its fixtures are likely original unless they broke and were replaced, he said. The high school was built in 1956, and Carlson said, “We’re not sure how many fixtures have been replaced in that time.”
Administrators shared the results with Maine’s state toxicologist, Dr. Andrew Smith, to address potential health concerns, have put local pediatricians in touch with Smith directly and are encouraging parents to contact Smith or their pediatrician if they have concerns.
“We’re not doctors, and we shouldn’t be making recommendations one way or another,” Carlson said.