Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School is one of three schools in the district that were found to have high levels of lead in late September 2022. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

Three coastal Hancock County schools have turned to bottled water for students and staff after high levels of lead were found in their drinking water.

Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School, Deer Isle-Stonington High School and Sedgwick Elementary School all had water from several different faucets and fountains exceed the 4 parts per billion lead threshold. The schools are working to rectify the issue.

“If we’re going to have an open school building, we’re going to need the water safe to be drunk,” said Dan Ross, the superintendent for School Union 76, which oversees all three schools.  

The district notified parents late last month and is scoping out the work that will need to be done to clean up the water. Ross believed the contamination stemmed from lead solder on pipes or other parts in the plumbing.

The Hancock County schools are the latest in a string of Maine schools reporting high concentrations of lead after a 2019 state law ordered all cooking and drinking taps be tested.

Some fixes could involve just swapping out faucets but the district could need totally new piping.

“If we have to repipe the buildings, that’s a more involved fix,” he said.

Costs for remediation are still unclear.

The district is waiting for results for the elementary school in Brooklin.

Lead usually gets into water from the plumbing fixtures in the building, not from the water source, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Children who drink water containing high levels of lead can have delayed physical and mental development, and it can lead to kidney problems and high blood pressure in adults.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there is no safe level of lead.

Any water that has more than four parts per billion is recommended for remediation in Maine and stricter federal guidelines kick in at 15 parts per billion. Sedgwick had 12 sinks and fountains exceeding the 4 parts per billion level. The highest was 17.5 parts per billion.

Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary had 10 instances. A sink in the school’s library tested at 78.2 parts per billion, though it wasn’t usually used for drinking water, according to Ross.

Deer Isle-Stonington High School had nine instances. The highest was 36.4 parts per billion.

This is the latest in water woes for the area.

The high school was already using bottled water because this summer it was found to have high levels of PFAS, a set of chemicals that has come under scrutiny in recent years and is linked to serious health issues. A filtration system for the PFAS at the school is still in the works.

The school union is pondering declaring the water issue an “emergency,” a technical move that would allow it to move through the bidding and installation process faster.