LEWISTON — The Lewiston school district is restricting access to some water sources in its schools after a state testing program found lead levels above their recommended threshold.

Just over a third of all the water sources tested from half of Lewiston’s schools showed lead concentration at or above the state’s recommended threshold of 4 parts per billion (ppb), as reported by the Maine Drinking Water Program on Wednesday.

According to Amy Lachance, director of the Maine Drinking Water Program, about 30% of the nearly 3,000 water sources tested from school across the state so far were too high, a rate she said was similar to schools in other states.

All Maine schools are required by law to regularly test their water for lead, according to a 2019 bill.

Lead is a toxin which can impair the development of young children, especially those under the age of 6, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control website. Children are most commonly exposed through old paint dust, which is “almost always the cause of lead poisoning,” it states.

There is no safe level of lead, Lachance said.


Farwell, Montello, Geiger and McMahon elementary schools, as well as Lewiston Regional Technical Center and Longley School were included in the district’s first round of testing. The rest of Lewiston’s schools will be tested next week, during February break.

Every water source found to have had high levels of lead has either been turned off or inscribed to warn people not to drink the water, Superintendent Jake Langlais said. Water bottles will be available for students and staff in each of these schools beginning Tuesday.

In a letter to the school community Friday, Langlais wrote that until school officials are able to identify the causes and fix the problems, these water sources will not be used. The district is retesting each of these water sources.

“We do not have any test results that prompt whole school mitigation,” Langlais wrote. “These test results are spot specific, like a sink, a water fountain, etc.”

According to information from the Maine Drinking Water Program, “When lead is present in drinking water, it usually is a result of lead leaching from pipes and plumbing fixtures inside the building or facility and not from the water supply itself.”

Sixty-two percent of the 105 water sources tested at McMahon were found to be above the threshold, the highest of any of the Lewiston schools tested, followed by 60% of 55 sources at Montello, then 50% of the sources at Longley.


Montello water sources tended to return the highest lead concentrations, followed by McMahon and Longley.

“The hard thing, to be honest with you, with these test results is that it seems to be relatively inconsistent,” Langlais said in a phone interview Monday, explaining that results show differences in lead levels even among neighboring water sources with the same piping and equipment.

“So why some are (coming back) higher than others is really what we’re investigating now with follow-up testing,” he added.

Lewiston has tested its water for lead previously, however the state threshold for concern was higher at that time, Langlais said. The new school testing program standard is more strict.

He said he will continue to keep the school community informed on their progress and findings in future updates.

The Bangor and Waterville school districts also found high levels of lead in some school water sources. No other public school district in Androscoggin County has tested their water since sampling began in October, according to the preliminary results.


Schools have until the end of May to submit water samples for testing.

Lachance said federal grants are funding the testing program, however schools are responsible for remediation costs.

These tests should represent a worst-case scenario, Lachance said. Schools are asked to collect water from sources which have not been run for at least eight hours.

“That may not be representative of what’s going through the pipes all day long as the pipes are flushed through with water, but we don’t know that for sure,” she said.

In follow-up testing, schools are told to collect water samples after the source has run for at least 30 seconds. These samples are expected to better represent the actual water that students may drink.

Lower results from follow-up tests may indicate that the lead is from the faucet or immediate plumbing; in contrast, similar lead concentrations could mean that the lead source is further within the school.

While Lachance acknowledges that the sampling results may be concerning to parents, she explained that it’s important for schools to be aware of lead so it can be addressed.

She said parents should check the Department of Health and Human Service’s Division of Environmental and Community Health webpage for more information on lead and the testing program.

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