Three coastal schools with high PFAS levels will install filtration systems to make their drinking market safe.
Deer Isle-Stonington High School is one of three schools in Hancock County working to get water filtration systems in for the start of the school year after the discovery of high levels of PFAS. Credit: Ethan Genter

Three Hancock County schools that were found to have high levels of hazardous PFAS in their water should have new filtration systems in place for early in the upcoming school year.

Mount Desert Island High School, Brooklin Elementary School and Deer Isle-Stonington High School have some of Maine’s highest levels of PFAS — per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances — found so far in ongoing tests of Maine’s schools and other public water systems.

The districts are installing new filter systems to make drinking water safe for students. But if that fails, bottled water will be brought in.

MDI is expecting to install a filtration system for PFAS this week that will allow students to safely drink water in school again. It could be ready to go when school starts on Aug. 30, if retesting can be completed in time.

Brooklin and Deer Isle-Stonington, both part of the School Union 76, have received funding to pay for systems and are working with engineers to get them installed. The SU76 filters likely won’t be installed before school starts on Aug. 29, but should be in place early in the school year, according to superintendent Dan Ross.

“We’re waiting on engineer quotes at this point,” he said. “I’m not sure if it will be in place by then. If not, we will be opening with bottled water.”

At MDI, there could also be an overlap where students and staff won’t be able to use the school’s water while the system is tested again for PFAS, Superintendent Michael Zboray said.

“Everything’s in the process and we have water on hand if we have to wait a little longer,” he said.

Tests at the three schools from the spring found PFAS levels as high as 85 parts per trillion at Mount Desert Island High School, 106.6 parts per trillion in Brooklin and 122.8 parts per trillion at Deer Isle-Stonington. The state requires remediation if the PFAS levels are above 20 parts per trillion.

A 2021 law requires all public water systems, schools and other facilities to be tested for PFAS, a series of chemicals found in everything from nonstick cookware to firefighting foams that are linked to kidney cancer, thyroid disease and other serious health problems.

Why these schools are among the highest in the state isn’t clear. Zboray said MDI is looking to test bodies of water around the school, including a nearby stream and swamp, as well as a separate school irrigation well.  

“We’re just as curious to find out if it exists in other areas and make sure it’s not in the water,” he said.