Drinking water at Hodgdon Middle High School, as well as Mill Pond School, have tested for high levels of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances and are no longer consumable. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HODGDON, Maine — Students in two southern Aroostook County schools are no longer allowed to drink water from fountains after an unsafe level of contaminants were found.

Tests on water for Hodgdon Middle-High School and Mill Pond Elementary School conducted in late December showed the two schools had higher than acceptable levels of per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, more commonly known as PFAS or forever chemicals.

SAD 70 Superintendent Tyler Putnam told parents earlier this week that a representative from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services contacted the district on Dec. 20 about the results of the recent water tests in the two schools.

SAD 70 is not the first school district in the state to discover the contaminants in its drinking water — nor are the amounts per trillion among the higher concentrations — but it appears to be the first one in Aroostook County to test above acceptable levels. Unacceptable levels of PFAS contamination have been found in various water sources, on farms and in wildlife in Maine.

Three coastal Hancock County schools — Mount Desert Island High School, Brooklin Elementary School and Deer-Isle Stonington High School — had some of Maine’s highest levels of PFAS found during ongoing tests of Maine’s public water systems and schools, according to water sample data from the state.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been widely used since the 1940s in consumer products and industrial applications, according to the Maine CDC. Due to their widespread use and persistence in the environment, most people in the United States have been exposed to some level of PFAS.

Hodgdon’s test showed that the public water system exceeded the interim standard for PFAS. Hodgdon Middle-High School’s test came back at 34.3 parts per trillion, while Hodgdon Mill Pond was slightly lower at 23.1 ppt. The interim standard is that drinking water needs to be below 20 ppt, according to the Maine CDC.

The state is analyzing a secondary sample of water from both schools. Each school has its own well. Every public water system had to test before Dec. 31, Putnam said.

“The focus is to make sure that we have the best possible drinking water in our schools,” he said. “As a proactive measure, we (SAD 70) started adjusting now, before the secondary test results came back.”

The district has stopped using all water for cooking and consumption until results from the second sample have been analyzed. All water fountains have been shut off and the kitchen staff cooks with bottled water.

Putnam said notices were sent to all parents and guardians of students asking them to send water with their children to school each day. Bottled water will be provided to families unable to do so.

He also said the public response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Our community is so good at stepping up to help,” he said. “Houlton Farms Dairy reached out asking if there was anything they could do. And not one parent called to complain about having to send their child with water.”

Putnam said if the district’s secondary tests show continued high levels of PFAS, it would then start exploring alternative measures in the school, such as drilling a new well or installing a system of water filtration devices throughout the two buildings. Continuing to use bottled water may also be a temporary solution.

“The kids have been very adaptive,” Putnam said. “It’s similar to what we went through when COVID-19 first started back in 2020 so they are familiar with what we are doing.”

According to the The Maine Department of Environmental Protection, p otential health impacts from PFAS include decreased fertility, increased risk of cancer, reduced immune system response and effects to childhood development.