Most water fixtures at Leeds Central School show lead levels exceeding state threshold

Dec. 13—GREENE — Maine School Administrative District 52 directors received an update Thursday on initial lead testing results from the remaining three district schools.

Nearly three out of five of the 46 water sources tested at Leeds Central School were found to have lead levels at or above the state threshold of 4 parts per billion. At Leavitt Area High School and Tripp Middle School, both in Turner, about one in five water fixtures were at or above the same threshold.

Only one water fountain from the three schools, located at the high school, tested above the threshold at 12.1 parts per billion.

MSAD 52 will now retest all of the water fixtures that showed results at or above the state threshold using a different method. Instead of letting water sit for eight hours as was done for initial testing, water samples will be collected after letting the water run for 30 seconds.

The first testing method has been described by state officials as the worst-case scenario. Follow-up testing better represents the actual lead levels in the water.

Results from Turner Primary School, Turner Elementary School and Greene Central School were presented in mid-November. Water fixtures at Turner Elementary School tested above the state threshold at a similar rate to Leeds Central School, whereas Greene Central School and Turner Primary School had far fewer fixtures with high lead levels.

Due to a 2019 law passed by the Maine Legislature, all schools within the state are required to test all water fixtures for lead. Federal grants are funding the testing program; however, school districts are responsible for the cost of remediating water fixtures with lead levels above the state threshold.

MSAD 52 administrators said Thursday that they are waiting for more guidance from the state on how to proceed. Fixtures and fountains which have tested at or above the state threshold for lead have either been turned off or posted to indicate they should be used for hand washing only.

Lead is a toxin that can impair the development of young children, especially those younger than 6, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Children are most commonly exposed through old paint dust, which is "almost always the cause of lead poisoning," according to information from the state. There is no safe threshold for lead exposure.

In water, lead often originates from solder or from brass plumbing hardware within the building.

The state threshold of 4 parts per billion is stricter than the federal threshold of 15 parts per billion.

About 28% of the 18,500 water fixtures tested in schools across Maine have shown lead levels at or above 4 parts per billion in initial testing.

Special Education Director Rebekah Drysdale told the directors the number of students with individualized education plans is increasing.

"We have not had numbers this high, ever," she said, noting that the growth is due to both students moving into the district and being referred from within the district.

There are 390 students with individualized education plans, representing roughly one out of every five students in the district. There are 17 additional students in the referral process, she said.

"The good side to that is we're anticipating more federal and state funding to be able to support those students," Drysdale said. "But coming forward there will be a budget impact to be able to meet the needs under our legal obligations to support those students."

The district, like many others in the region, is also short of special education staff. There are currently 14 vacant educational technician positions in special education according to Superintendent Cari Medd.

Adult Education Director Bryan Brito said the district's adult education program is likely seeing the highest level of student participation he has seen in his 10 years with the program.

Historically, the program averages about 70 students in a school year, he said. This year, there were 70 students as of Nov. 1, less than halfway through the school year.

"We're happy to be able to help," Brito said. "But the numbers are straining what we're used to."