Early state testing reveals high lead levels in Bath schools

Initial results from the state testing for lead in water at Maine schools revealed high levels of the harmful metal in three Bath schools.

The state passed a law in 2019 that requires all taps used for drinking or cooking to be tested for lead. Testing began in October 2021 and will continue through May.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention states no amount of lead is safe, and any faucet with over four parts per billion shouldn’t be used.

All but one of Bath Middle School’s 16 faucets that were tested showed some amount of lead. Of those, six had over four parts per billion, putting them above the state’s acceptable threshold. A faucet in a staff room had the highest amount of lead at 33.5 parts per billion, according to the results.

The state tested 17 taps in Fisher Mitchell School and found 14 had over four parts per billion of lead, including four drinking fountains. A sink in a storage closet had the highest amount at 282 parts per billion.

Of the 18 taps tested in Dike Newell School, 14 had over four parts per billion, state results reported. A drinking fountain near the elementary school’s gym had the highest amount of lead: 123 parts per billion.

Five taps in Phippsburg Elementary Schools were tested. The three faucets that did have lead all had under four parts per billion.

The state did not have results for Morse High School or Woolwich Central School, which make up the rest of Regional School Unit 1.

No samples were taken yet in neighboring school districts, such as public schools in Brunswick, Topsham, Woolwich, Wiscasset, Durham, West Bath, Harpswell or Freeport.


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Lead is tasteless, odorless, invisible and can be harmful to humans, even in small amounts, according to Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of Defend Our Health, a Maine-based nonprofit advocating for equal access to safe food, drinking water, and non-toxic products.

In adults, ingesting lead can cause kidney problems and high blood pressure. In children, lead can interfere with cognitive development.

“It prevents children from reaching their full potential, lowers their IQ score and can cause behavioral problems,” said MacRoy.

Lead appears in water when it leaches from pipes made with lead. Lead levels are higher when water has been sitting in pipes rather than flushing regularly, according to the state.


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“The degree of potential harm to a child from drinking water depends on how much lead is in the water and how quickly those levels drop as the water faucet is flushed,” said Amy Lachance, director of the state’s drinking water program. “The drinking water samples currently being taken at Maine schools represent the first 250 ml drawn from the fixture after at least eight hours of water standing in contact with faucet and plumbing.”

Early state testing reveals high lead levels in Bath schools

Lachance said the amount of lead in a water fountain will decrease when that fountain is used repeatedly. This means the samples taken from schools “may not be representative of the water that is flowing through the plumbing throughout the school day.”

Though Bath schools show high lead levels, RSU 1 Superintendent Katie Joseph said those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“With COVID-19, we turned off a bunch of faucets at the water fountains and had kids bring in water bottles and handed out bottled water,” said Joseph. “Some of the higher lead numbers are from water fountains that had been turned off, so we weren’t using them for two years.”

Joseph said filtered water bottle filling stations were installed in every RSU 1 school, and that’s where students get their drinking water. However, Joseph said she didn’t know what faucets were being used to access cooking water for each school.

Joseph said the district ordered new equipment to replace older faucets that showed high lead levels. Those replacements should be done by the end of the month, she said, and the schools will retest for lead to ensure they’re safe for students.

“Any district with an old school knows that there’s likely to be some lead found, which is why we’re really supportive of the new legislation that was recently passed to make sure this is done every year in schools,” said Joseph. “I’m really happy Maine is doing this. With so many old schools, it’s so important that we’re aware of what students are putting into their bodies.”

Bath Middle School was built in 1953, and Fisher Mitchell and Dike Newell School were both built in 1960, according to city records.

“It’s not a surprise that we found a lot of lead. What’s important is that we know where the problems are and can work to address them,” said MacRoy. “We can eliminate exposure to lead – which should always be our first goal – by disconnecting off that faucet or tap. The goal is to make sure children are drinking from sources that aren’t contaminated.”

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