High levels of lead found in central Maine elementary school water

High levels of lead found in Kennebec County school.

BENTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- An elementary school in central Maine shut off its drinking water Wednesday after a voluntary test showed high levels of lead in the school’s water supply.

MSAD 49 Superintendent Dean Baker said he found out around 9 a.m. Wednesday about the test results from the Kennebec Water District.

He said there were three sites in the school that showed high levels: a sink in the kitchen came in at the highest measure of 697 parts per billion. The action level, or “acceptable level,” according to the KWD is 20 ppb.

Principal Brian Wedge said the sink is not often used as water to be boiled, but often to rinse or clean items

KWD general manager Jeffrey LaCasse said that the initial draw can sometimes show an extremely high level if water has been sitting idle in a brass fixture or a pipe with lead solder. He said the district plans to conduct further testing in the following days to determine the source of the lead leeching.

LaCasse said the water district offered this voluntary test to the school district out of interest to see what the school’s levels were in the wake of the Flint, Michigan news.

“We wanted to make sure everything was under control as soon as possible,” said LaCasse. “Some of the plumbing is 1957 vintage, some of the other is 1990.”

LaCasse said the building was built in 1957 and was renovated and had an addition put on in 1990, but that much of the original plumbing was kept.

The other two sites, in-classroom fountains, had 57 and 78 ppb, according to LaCasse.

“That opened our eyes pretty quickly,” said LaCasse.

Some parents in Benton are not worried.

“Any time you’re dealing with lead and children, it’s going to cause concern,” said Catherine Knox Turner. “I don’t think Fairfield is Flint, and I really do feel they will get to the bottom of it and it will be resolved.”

Poland Spring donated dozens of five-gallon jugs of water so the school could continue to hold classes and that students could stay hydrated.

“We’re very appreciative,” said Baker. “We’re going to replace anything that’s possibly questionable in order to have the highest standard of care that we can provide.”

Earlier this year, schools in Bangor and Yarmouth also found high levels of lead in their drinking water.

Baker and LaCasse said they still do not know exactly where the lead is coming from, whether inside the school or out, but both said they plan to conduct more tests Friday at the elementary, middle, and high schools to try to narrow down the cause.

Baker said in the future, they will now do extra tests in an effort to prevent finding high lead levels.

“The crisis will soon turn to planning and carrying out remedial measures. Those have already started, and they’ll continue until the problem is completely cleaned up.”

LaCasse said the tests only cost about $20, but are time-consuming.

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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