Yarmouth School Committee satisfied with response to lead findings

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YARMOUTH — School Committee members had little to say last week after being briefed about high levels of lead found in water at two schools.

Members of the public at the Sept. 8 meeting also chose not to comment.

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff on Aug. 30 informed parents of the lead found in water at Yarmouth Elementary School and Frank Harrison Middle School.

Of the 50 faucets and water bubblers tested, five at HMS and 13 at YES had lead levels exceeding 15 parts per billion, which is the safety standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dolloff, as expected, told the School Committee the issue is with the faucets, and lead is not present in the public water supply.

“I want to assure people as much as I can that the water coming into our buildings from the Portland Water District is fine,” he said. “We have a few isolated faucet issues that we’re dealing with.” 

Dolloff last week said it’s been at least 25 years since the water had been tested; it was tested this summer because he requested the measure. Dr. Emily Lesher of the Trace Element Lab at Saint Joseph’s College performed the tests at no cost.

Lesher, who attended the School Committee meeting, praised the School Department for being “voluntary, proactive” about testing.

“The amazing thing to me is that there really is no requirement for schools on public water systems,” she said. “That’s kind of why I started this project, because when you have so many little kids in one building that are drinking a lot of water over the course of the day, it’s important to be providing them really, really good water.”

Maine schools that use public water systems aren’t required to test for lead. Following the situation in Yarmouth, though, state Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, is introducing legislation requiring schools that are more than 10 years old and use public water systems to test for lead every three years.

School Committee members praised Dolloff’s decision, and only asked a small number of questions, mostly pertaining to when the issue will be resolved.

“I do think it’s going to be a couple months of work here and hopefully we’ll have things all done, the testing and results back in for all four facilities, prior to mid-November,” Dolloff said.

Only YES and HMS were tested, but Dolloff said Yarmouth High School and the William H. Rowe School will also be tested as a precaution. 

Dolloff said faucets with the highest lead levels are being replaced. The new faucets will be retested and, if they pass – as anticipated – all the other faucets and bubblers with high levels will be replaced, too. Then all the faucets and bubblers will be tested again.

The tests will cost “a few thousand dollars,” he said, as will replacing the faucets. 

“The cost of this is going to be very minimal compared to the assurance we’ll have that the water is fine coming out of all of those fixtures,” Dolloff said.

In the meantime, students have been asked to bring reusable water bottles and/or bottled water to school. Also, 5-gallon bottled water dispensers were placed in YES classrooms and other areas of the school.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.