Regional School Unit 9 is battling elevated levels of lead in water fixtures across the district’s seven schools. As a result, RSU 9 canceled school district wide Friday, May 6. Administration was able to resume school Monday, May 9, with the use of water bottles provided by Hannaford and Walmart. Pictured, workers from Walmart deliver water bottles to RSU 9 schools in preparation for the Monday school day. Screenshot

FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 (RSU 9) is facing new challenges following the results of lead testing in water fixtures across the district.

Friday, May 6, RSU 9 administration had to cancel school district-wide to handle elevated lead levels in water fixtures across the seven schools.

In the announcement, Superintendent Chris Elkington explained that 54 of 117 (approximately 46%) tested fixtures used for drinking water and food preparation came back with elevated levels of lead. The levels exceed Maine guidelines under LD 153, An Act to Strengthen Testing for Lead in School Drinking Water.

The Press Herald reports that Maine has set an acceptable lead limit of 4 parts per billion — stricter than the federal standard of 15 ppb.

The test results, required by the state under LD 153, show 63 of RSU 9’s water fixtures were below 4 ppb, 38 between 4 ppb and 15 ppb, and 16 above 15 ppb.

Detailed lab reports have been published on the district’s website at


In the initial letter sent Thursday, Elkington said administration “tried to come up with a plan to try and still have school safely [Friday], but unfortunately because of a number of factors we were not able to make this happen.”

Elkington announced later Friday that students would be able to return to class Monday, May 9, with the use of bottled water and water dispensers donated by Walmart and Hannaford.

Administration was not able to acquire the bottled water at such short notice to keep school in session Friday, Elkington said.

He also informed parents and staff in the letter that administration has been working with the Maine Drinking Water Program (which oversees LD 153), the Farmington and Wilton Water Districts, and the RSU 9 Maintenance Team to get a better understanding of the problem.

Administration has discovered the elevated lead content is “not due to our water sources”; that “source water almost never contains lead naturally.”

Elkington explained some of the pieces in the puzzle Friday and another update sent Sunday, May 8, as: the corrosive nature of water (especially in New England); 2020 school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in prolonged standing water in and corroding water fixtures; and use of hot water in kitchens causing quicker leeching of lead in fixtures.


Elkington said the district is moving forward with steps, as guided by the Maine Drinking Water Program, that include:

• Posting signs stipulating specific ways fixtures, sinks, fountains, etc. can or cannot be used.

• Providing bottled water for staff and students.

• Using bottled water in kitchens for food preparation this week.

• Washing dishes, utensils, pots, pans, etc. in school water because “lead is not absorbed through touch but through ingestion.”

• Using fixtures, fountains and bottle-fill stations that were tested with results below 4ppb as normal.


• Turning off fixtures with elevated lead levels in schools that only have a few locations above 4ppb.

Additionally, the district will conduct “remediation testing” as soon as possible for the foreseeable future to help define a long-term action plan.

Lead testing in schools across Maine

LD 153 was passed in 2019 to require “all schools to test water used for drinking or culinary purposes for lead” and establish with DHHS rule “water lead levels, testing protocols, appropriate abatement and mitigation methods and public notification requirements.”

The timeline was extended to ensure schools stay open amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, Maine school districts were given until May 31, 2022, to undergo lead testing in water fixtures used for drinking and preparing food.

Since the Drinking Water Program launched the effort Oct. 1, 2021, many schools across Maine have exceeded the acceptable limit for lead — with a high percentage exceeding the 15 ppb level.

Elkington stated in the updates that Maine schools testing for lead “have seen at least a 30% failure rate for drinking faucets in schools.” More so, “9 to 11% of water systems through the state test high for [lead].”

RSU 9 is not the first to turn to bottled water as a band-aid solution to the problem. Lewiston Public Schools also cut off use of its unacceptable fixtures and made water bottles available in February.

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