Water samples from the Helen A. Thompson School in West Gardiner and Whitefield Elementary School showed per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, levels of more than 30 parts per trillion. The state limit for drinking water is 20 parts per trillion. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Two elementary schools in the Augusta area are installing water filtration systems after finding levels of so-called “forever chemicals” in their water supplies that are higher than the state limit.

Water samples from the Helen A. Thompson School in West Gardiner and Whitefield Elementary School showed per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, levels of 30.7 parts per trillion and 31.1 parts per trillion, respectively. Maine’s limit — one of the strictest in the nation — is 20 parts per trillion, and the federal limit is 70 parts per trillion.

The schools will supply bottled water to students and cafeteria workers to cook with until the filtration systems can be installed within the next month. Washing hands with PFAS-contaminated water should not increase exposure, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The Whitefield school is among roughly half a dozen that, as of mid-August, reported levels of PFAS that are higher than the state standard, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The results from the Helen Thompson School were recently shared with parents and community members and are expected to appear in the CDC’s  September update. The agency’s spokesperson, Robert Long, confirmed the values on Friday.

PFAS are a group of chemicals that break down slowly over time in both the body and the environment and are often called “forever chemicals” because of that. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to fertility issues, certain types of cancers and compromised immune systems. Their oil- and water-repellent characteristics contributed to the chemicals being used in many products, like food packaging, household items such as shampoo or dental floss, and can seep into wells and sources of water from farms and waste sites.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said if PFAS are found in well water, it “does not necessarily mean you will have health problems,” but it is recommended if PFAS is found above the 20 parts per trillion threshold to take the necessary steps to fix the contaminated water and in the meantime, to switched to bottled water.


State law requires all public water districts to test for PFAS by Dec. 31.

Helen Thompson School is the only school in the Maine School Administrative District 11 to receive its water source from a well, Superintendent Pat Hopkins explained to the school board on Sept. 1.

The other schools in the district — Gardiner Area High School, Gardiner Regional Middle School, Pittston-Randolph Consolidated School, River View School and Laura E. Richards School — all rely on city water, which tested within allowable levels.

“It’s above the maximum allowed, but it’s not super high,” Hopkins said of Helen Thompson School.

Water at schools in the Mount Desert Island-area, such as Deer Isle-Stonington Junior High School, tested at 122.8 parts per trillion for PFAS levels and Mount Desert Island High School tested at 80.7 parts per trillion.

At the Sept. 1 school board meeting, Hopkins and Gabe Dostie, director of transportation and plant in MSAD 11, already had a plan in place to install a filtration system in the well and to supply packaged water bottles to students and cafeteria workers to cook with.


The filtration system will cost Maine School Administrative District $10,000 and the bottled water, at this time, has cost the district $3,500.

Hopkins hypothesized with the board that since the well is at the bottom of a hill, the chemicals might have trailed down from the farm above.

With the results coming in right before the first week of school, Hopkins said the district decided to use its own money to fix the problem instead of applying for a grant from the Maine Drinking Water Program. Hopkins said that’s because the district needed to find a solution, fast.

“The state does have a grant, but the stipulations for funding are extensive and would prevent us from being able to remedy the issue until sometime this winter,” she told the Kennebec Journal.

Whitefield Elementary School, part of Regional School Unit 12, is also using bottled water and plans to have its filtration system installed within the next month as well, according to Superintendent Howie Tuttle. Tuttle, who confirmed the school receives its water from a well, said the school will apply for state funding to cover the cost.

Long, the Maine CDC spokesperson, said the agency is aware of some supply chain issues regarding the speed at which the filtration systems can be installed, but “none that would take until winter.”

“We are aware of some supply chain delays associated with obtaining the carbon filtration systems to treat the water, but none that would take until winter to get treatment installed,” Long said.

Public water systems have until Dec. 31 to submit water samples, Long said, and results are updated once a month. The pace of results is determined by when the water systems do the sampling.

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