Students at two schools on the Blue Hill Peninsula have been told not to drink their schools’ water after it was found to be contaminated with high levels of hazardous chemicals.
Recent water tests at Surry Elementary School and Blue Hill Consolidated School found both of the Hancock County schools have per- and poly-fluoroalkul substances, or PFAS, in their drinking water and students have been drinking bottled water since the beginning of the school year.
Surry principal Larry Clements said that the levels at his school — which serves 146 students in pre-K through grade 8 — were between 30 and 40 parts per trillion. The state requires remediation for PFAS if levels are above 20 parts per trillion.
Surry Elementary School is one of two schools on the Blue Hill Peninsula found to have high levels of PFAS in their drinking water for the start of the 2022 school year. Both Surry and the Blue Hill Consolidated Elementary School are currently using bottled water until they can find a way to filter out the hazardous chemicals. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN
Blue Hill, another pre-K through 8 school, tested much higher, with one test coming in at 133 parts per trillion and another at 168 parts per trillion, according to principal Dan Ormsby.
Neither principal knew why their levels were so high and both said they are working to find ways to clean up the water.
“It was a big curveball to start your school year,” Clements said. “It’s one of our next big projects to tackle.”
With the test results back for Surry and Blue Hill, there are now five schools around coastal Hancock County that have high levels of PFAS in their water and are required to implement filtration systems.
They join a growing number of Maine water systems that have discovered PFAS, a series of chemicals that are found in everything from nonstick cookware to firefighting foams and have been linked to kidney cancer, thyroid disease and other serious health problems.
Blue Hill’s PFAS levels are among the highest levels found so far in the state’s ongoing tests of schools and other public water systems.
Deer Isle-Stonington High School, Mount Desert Island High School and Brooklin Elementary School all also tested above the 20 parts per trillion remediation standard.
Mount Desert Island had levels as high as 85 parts per trillion, Brooklin had 106.6 parts per trillion and Deer Isle-Stonington had 122.8 parts per trillion. All three were working on having filtration systems in for the start of the year.
A 2021 law requires all public water systems, schools and other facilities to be tested for PFAS and that work is ongoing.
After parents and guardians were notified of the water woes in Surry and Blue Hill, donations of bottled water, both to drink and to use for cooking in school cafeterias, started pouring in.
“People are coming out of the woodwork to support us with bottled water,” Clements said.
In addition to parent donations, Tradewinds, a local supermarket in Blue Hill, area restaurants, Blue Hill Hospital and soda giant Pepsi have all donated water.
“We had quite a few private families dropping off cases and cases of water,” Ormsby said. “It’s shown me that this community, when something happens, it really pulls together.”