Like a slew of other U.S. states in 2019, Maine does not require public schools to test their water for concentrations of lead. But Lillian Sherburne didn’t know that when she decided to have her school’s drinking water tested for a school project in 2017. Last month, Pine Tree Watch reported on Sherburne and her cataclysmic findings.
After collaborating with her school’s facilities director and the superintendent, Boothbay Region High School was set up to be tested for lead. Then a junior, Sherburne and her peers were absolutely shocked to find out that the school’s water greatly surpassed the safe levels set by the EPA.
Since schools are often connected to public water supplies, the state doesn’t require them to test their water because the suppliers should already be testing them regularly. But the catch is, the contamination wasn’t coming from the source. It was originating from inside the schools themselves—old plumbing with lead-laden solder joints.
With that being said, across the whole state, almost 500 public schools had possibly been exposed to dangerous levels of lead without knowing it. Worse? There was no legal obligation for the schools to test for it in the first place.
A strong neurotoxin, lead can do damage to all your body’s systems, namely the heart, bones, kidneys, teeth, intestines, reproductive organs and the nervous and immune systems. Particularly in young children, lead can do irreversible damage like stunt growth, reduce IQ, cause anemia and reduce hearing capabilities.
ACTION FROM THE STATE
Almost three years after learning this fearful information, lawmakers are finally taking the necessary steps to hopefully help the situation. Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth) has proposed bill LD 153 which would require all Maine schools to test for lead, no matter the source of their water. And though her bill gained widespread support, some believed that the language of the bill would cause financial stress on some schools that are underfunded, thus unable to cover the cost.
So, Millett changed the nature of the bill to only require schools to test for lead without having to mitigate the problem. In the article, Millet said:
“My view is, because of the serious nature of lead, if they were to find that there was an issue, they will take whatever action is necessary.”
Both the financial burden of testing water and remediation varies from school to school, with some, like Boothbay, having to pay up to $100,000 just to rid their water supply of lead. Luckily, Maine’s Department of Education enacted the School Revolving Renovation Fund in 2017 that seeks to support mitigation costs for schools wanting to test their water.
Of the 60 towns and cities who have participated in the program, 24 have found elevated levels of lead above the appropriate action level set by the EPA: 15 parts per billion. Boothbay ranked the highest overall reading, clocking in at 1,100 ppb just from one classroom sink, and 68 elevated samples total.
According to Pine Tree Watch, the school has installed 11 new water fountains, replaced fixtures on classroom fountains and faucets and replaced other plumbing components. In addition, the school created a policy that mandates all teachers “flush” their faucets for at least three minutes every morning to keep lead from accumulating.
WATER SHOULDN’T BE WORRISOME
Though no one batted an eyelash when Boothbay spent almost $100,000 revitalizing its plumbing infrastructure, many states and communities across the country still believe it’s “too expensive” to do anything about this lead crisis. And if the very individuals who could spark real change refuse to do so, then what can we do?
First, you can start by ditching the tap altogether. Companies like Primo® Water make that an easy choice too, considering our water undergoes a 5-step Reverse Osmosis (RO) purification system. That ensures that you’re getting better, safer water with each drop, free of lead, harmful microorganisms, trace pharmaceuticals and more.
So, remember: the tap isn’t your only option. And Maine certainly isn’t the only state facing this dirty water crisis. Find a Primo® Water retailer near you to get started down a path to a healthier state, community, and best of all, a healthier you.