WEST GARDINER, Maine — A Maine school has shut down its drinking fountains and is bringing in water from off site after discovering elevated arsenic levels in the building’s drinking water.
School Administrative District 11 Superintendent Patricia Hopkins told parents of students attending Helen Thompson School about the test results earlier this week. That test was completed while students were on vacation last week. The arsenic test exceeded the acceptable limit of 10 parts per billion.
The school will bring in water from elsewhere to prepare food, and each classroom has been given jugs of drinking water for students and staff.
Hopkins said that the building’s filtration media in its water system would be changed on Thursday. After that, new samples will be collected to ensure the arsenic levels have fallen to acceptable levels. Then the order to not drink the water can be lifted.
“Looking forward, the water at the Helen Thompson School will be put on an increased testing cycle, which will be completed quarterly rather than annually,” Hopkins said. “This will continue until our test results stay within the recommended limits as required by the state.”
Arsenic is common in Maine wells. The toxic chemical is found naturally in Maine’s soil and bedrock. It can dissolve into drinking water through the ground or as runoff, and end up in the private wells that more than half of Mainers rely on for their drinking water, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 10 percent of Maine wells have an elevated level of arsenic, and drinking that water can lead to problems over time such as skin damage, circulation problems, stomach pain, nausea and tingling in the hands and feet. Drinking it for many years may raise the risk of developing cancer, including skin, bladder and lung cancers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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BDN writer Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.