Hermon High School in December 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Hermon High School staff and students will drink bottled water for the rest of the school year after the level of PFAS in its well tested slightly above the state limit of no more than 20 parts per trillion.

The district’s options include digging a new well for the high school or installing treatment equipment costing approximately $25,000 to treat the water supply, Superintendent Micah Grant told the school committee on Monday.

Hermon High is one of 36 schools in Maine whose water supplies have tested above 20 parts per trillion for per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals or PFAS, according to Courtany Hanley, a PFAS specialist with the Maine Drinking Water Program, which is a division of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The district is pursuing a plan for mitigation equipment rather than digging a new well as it did this year at the Hermon Middle School at a cost of $50,000. The middle school water had a lead issue.

The initial cost for the high school filtration system would be reimbursed by a state program — Small Public Water System Emerging Contaminants Grants — which has been allocated $755,000 for mitigation at schools, day care centers and some mobile home parks.

The district will be responsible for maintenance of the system, Grant said. Through the grant program, the district could be reimbursed for up to $50,000 for water treatment and up to $10,000 for engineering costs.

The system is not expected to be installed until late spring or summer.

In 2021, Maine became one of only a dozen states to establish an enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS. A state law signed by Gov. Janet Mills required all public water systems and other types of facilities, including schools, to sample for PFAS by the end of 2022. The results of those tests are available on the Drinking Water Program’s website.

Water from the school well was tested in December and came back at 20.7 parts per trillion, according to the Maine Water Program.

Grant sent out a mass email Tuesday morning notifying parents, students, teachers and staff of the problem. Bottled water drinking stations were set up in the high school and water fountains were disabled.

People in the building will be encouraged to bring reusable bottles and fill them up at one of the stations rather than use the individual bottled waters in plastic containers.

Bottled water also will be used for cooking in the high school kitchen, which serves Hermon Middle School too because the school does not have its own kitchen. Well water will be used in bathrooms so people can wash their hands, Grant said.

School Committee member Haily Keezer questioned at Monday’s meeting why Grant had not made the test results public sooner. She pointed out that the letter informing the superintendent of the results was dated Jan. 18.

Grant said that he did not receive it until Thursday, Feb. 2, but was notified of the test results in an email on Jan. 13. He said Tuesday that he and staff  worked to put a plan in place before making the information public at the meeting. The Drinking Water Program gave the school district until Feb. 18 to inform the public of the problem.

Caravel Middle School in Regional School Unit 87 in Carmel also tested above the state level. Students in RSU 87, which includes Carmel and Levant, attend Hermon High School.

The water at Caravel was tested in September and October with levels results of 54.9 and 32.5, respectively, Superintendent Mark Turner said Tuesday. He said the high levels surprised him and town officials, who have no idea why the numbers were so high.

The district will have a charcoal filter system installed this spring.

“We hope to have it in place when we come back from April vacation,” he said.