BANGOR, Maine — After discovering elevated levels of lead in four water fountains at two schools, the Bangor School Department has shut down the fixtures and is working with the water district to address the issue.
In a letter sent to parents Thursday, Bangor Superintendent of Schools Betsy Webb said the department “proactively assessed” the water quality in all 10 of its schools in the wake of news of elevated lead levels in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and elsewhere in the country. Considering the age of Bangor’s school facilities, the district wanted to ensure the lead levels coming from the aging pipes were within safe levels.
After sending away water samples taken from drinking fountains across the district, officials found a pair of water fountains at 14th Street School — one in the hallway and one in the gymnasium — and two at Bangor High School — one in the administration area and the other in D Wing — had levels of lead that exceeded Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.
The four fountains ranged from 22 to 41 parts per billion, according to Webb. The EPA recommendation for water at schools is no more than 20 parts per billion.
The district says it was informed of the results on Wednesday.
Exposure to lead can cause lowered intelligence, neurological problems and brain and kidney dysfunction in adults and children. Pregnant women, infants and young children are at the greatest risk.
However, the water district has said there is a minimal public health threat. Of the average person’s lifetime exposure to lead, just 10 to 20 percent comes from water. Lead exposure also happens to a much lesser degree than in the past, when it was more prevalent in products such as gas and paint.
The lead does not come from the city’s water source — Floods Pond in Otis — or the city’s treatment center, or the city’s 200-plus miles of pipes that deliver water to Bangor’s residents and businesses. Where it does sometimes come from is the internal plumbing of older buildings, according to the Bangor Water District.
Webb included a letter from Kathy Moriarty, general manager for Bangor Water District, saying that lead can enter Bangor’s water when it reaches interior plumbing that contains the heavy metal, typically in older Bangor structures.
“To comply with federal law, Bangor Water routinely collects water samples from household taps and tests these for lead,” Moriarty said. “Federal law requires that at least 90 percent of the households tested have water below 15 parts per billion lead. Testing has shown our water complies with federal lead standards.”
Lead levels can rise if water has been sitting unused in pipes for several hours, according to the water district.
Webb said the district would work with Bangor Water District to ensure the lead levels are reduced, either by replacing pipes and equipment or installing filters.
“Additional water samples from those fountains will be retested to confirm that the fixes put into place are successful before reopening them for service,” Webb added.
“The safety of your child is paramount to us,” Webb said. “The amount of water consumed at these specific locations is not likely to affect your child.”
For more information on the EPA’s guidelines for lead levels in schools and childcare facilities, visit www.epa.gov/dwreginfo.
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