Limestone's new school board members recently appointed William Dobbins as the Limestone Community School's new superintendent. Dobbins is seen here speaking about the RSU 39 withdrawal process as well as his experience living and working in Aroostook County during an April 3 town Select Board meeting. Credit: Chris Bouchard / Aroostook Republican

LIMESTONE, Maine — The superintendent of Limestone Community School waited three months before warning the public of lead far exceeding recommended allowances in numerous drinking water sources and has taken few steps to remedy the situation, according to a school official.

In February, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention tested all 37 water fixtures at the community school building for potential lead contamination. The CDC released results to the school officials on March 8 showing that 25 fixtures contained lead levels either well above Maine’s 4 parts per billion limit or the Environmental Protection Agency’s 15 ppb — at least one was 43 times that amount.

The delay drew criticism from school officials and appeared to violate a state law established in 2019 requiring schools to test for lead, notify the community of any problems within five days and repair the affected plumbing.

“I had to go to the school committee to get the most recent test results, since the superintendent refused to share them,” said Sam Critchlow, executive director of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics. “[Dobbins] has allowed LCS students, staff and the public to consume water from sources testing many times the legal limit for lead. MSSM students and staff were kept in the dark.”

Fixtures in Limestone with notably high levels of lead included a makerspace classroom (658 pbb), the boys’ locker room (239), a Limestone Recreation Department sink (43.7), a teachers’ work room (43.1) and a sink in a special education classroom (30).

Limestone Community School Superintendent William Dobbins did not release a list of the affected drinking and cooking water faucets until he sent a letter to school employees and families on June 3, Critchlow said. He and MSSM’s staff were unaware of the problem until then, he said.

Dobbins refuted Critchlow’s claim Thursday but declined to comment further. He said he would address his response during a school committee meeting at LCS next week. The administration posted the results on the school website late Thursday morning after the BDN inquired about them.

MSSM, a public magnet high school, has shared a building with Limestone Community School since MSSM’s inception in the mid-1990s. Limestone Community School serves pre-K to grade 8 students. The lead test results included water fixtures in rooms that MSSM students and staff use.

While most of MSSM’s fixtures did not contain excessive lead, staff shut them off this summer and have been delivering bottled water to students instead.

In the letter to parents, Dobbins said that officials would shut off fixtures and conduct follow-up testing before July 1, but that has not happened, Critchlow said. School officials have posted a “Do Not Drink” sign at only one of those fixtures, he said.

Prolonged exposure to lead can cause health problems in children, including damage to the brain and nervous system, issues with behavior, speech or learning and slowed growth and development, according to the Maine CDC.

Since passage of the state law in 2019, schools across Maine have been more aggressively testing for lead in drinking water, with many finding high levels.

This spring, a district in Farmington canceled classes at all schools after finding levels above 15 pbb in 16 of its 117 fixtures. Thirty-eight fixtures had levels between 4 and 15 ppb. Bangor School Department replaced water pipes in seven city schools after high levels were found.

In Aroostook County, SAD 1 tested all 144 of the district’s sinks this spring and found that 23 contained lead levels above 4 ppb and eight exceeded 15 ppb. The district, which serves Presque Isle and surrounding towns, shut off those taps and said that it would conduct follow-up testing.

Lead can dissolve from pipes into the water when plumbing goes unused over a long period of time, such as during holidays or school breaks, according to the CDC. Officials recommend flushing water for 30 seconds and obtaining more test results to gauge whether lead levels have dropped. They also recommend putting “Do Not Drink” signs over all contaminated faucets until lead levels are deemed safe.

While addressing Limestone’s select board Wednesday, Critchlow said he felt motivated to speak out after feeling that Dobbins and staff were not doing enough. Community members who utilize the Limestone Recreation Department’s pool, located inside the school, have also been unaware of the contamination, he said.

While the 2019 law carries no true means of enforcement by the state, Critchlaw urged town officials and residents to demand action from Dobbins and the school committee.

“It relies on those who have children and grandchildren [attending LCS] to put pressure on the school to make a change,” Critchlow said.

The town’s five selectpeople indicated that they also did not know about the test results.

“I’m baffled,” said Vice Chairperson Randy Brooker. “This is the first time I’m hearing about this.”

The LCS school committee plans to address the water testing during its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 5 p.m in the board conference room.