LIMESTONE, Maine — After allegations that the Limestone school superintendent waited three months before notifying the community of high lead levels found in drinking water, school committee members urged officials to take quick action to replace or fix faucets that are still testing high.
Last week, the director of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, which shares a building with Limestone Community School, said that LCS Superintendent William Dobbins knew initial lead test results in March but did not inform school employees and parents until June 3.
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.
In February, the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested all 37 faucets and found that 25 contained lead levels either well above Maine’s 4 parts per billion limit or the Environmental Protection Agency’s 15 ppb — one of them 43 times more than acceptable levels.
CDC public records show that although follow-up and confirmation samples were taken at the school between March and June, LCS only provided proof of public notice after CDC officials requested that proof in May, according to Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long.
“If I missed the deadline [for public notification], it was not my intent. I have the best interests of the school at heart,” Dobbins said Wednesday night during a school committee meeting.
He said that he wanted school committee members to know about the confirmed test results prior to notifying the public. The school committee meets each month.
Mark Tasker, MSSM social sciences and world languages department chairperson, and Assistant Executive Director Tracy Moore were the only ones who addressed the handling of the initial results during the public comment period.
They read a statement on behalf of MSSM Executive Director Sam Critchlow, who brought the results to public light but was traveling out of state Wednesday.
Critchlow reiterated his frustrations with the lack of public awareness and encouraged the school committee to remain transparent.
“The initial results came to the school on March 8, but we did not know until June 3,” Tasker said, while reading Critchlow’s letter. “MSSM shut off our side of the building but [faucets] on LCS continued to flow.”
Committee member Meagan Malena confirmed that she and other members did not know about the test results until June prior to the notice being sent home with students.
Amanda Smith, another committee member, also expressed concerns on whether the administration followed LD 153, the state law requiring schools to report lead results to the public within five days.
“We should have known about this in March,” Smith said. “Moving forward, we need to make sure people are aware of what’s happening.”
Follow-up test results from mid-August, now posted on the school’s website, reveal that only seven faucets have lead levels between 4 and 15 ppb, with most of them having been used infrequently by students and staff in the past.
Affected faucets in MSSM’s portions of the building include a home economics sink (15 ppb), a science lab sink (10.5) and a conference room (8.9). Prior to flushing the faucet and follow-up tests, those sinks had tested at 18.7, 25.3 and 103 ppb, respectively.
Tasker noted that the home economics sink is one out of five sinks in that area, so students have been able to use those that are not affected.
The remaining sinks on MSSM’s side are those that staff and faculty have used infrequently, if at all, he said. All sinks were shut off after MSSM received the initial results in June.
School committee members opted to prioritize remediation for sinks that LCS and MSSM staff and students used more frequently, including one in a teacher’s break room that most recently tested at 6.8 compared to 18.9 before.
LCS Facilities and Transportation Supervisor Ike Heffron said that he shut down the faucets that still contain high lead levels and will make sure the remainder have signs warning people not to use the faucets, per the school committee’s request.
He also said that he and school leaders will discuss the costs and work involved with possibly replacing or repairing certain faucets.
Committee members agreed that officials should notify the public of any further test results and remediation steps before coming to the board.
“I’d say send us an email and then post [the updates],” Malena said to Dobbins. “If we have to post in five days, do it.”
The next LCS committee meeting is set for Wednesday, Oct. 12, in the board conference room, with the start time to be announced.