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Maine schools with elevated PFAS prepare for new year with water filtration systems

A dry water fountain is shown at Gardner Elementary School in Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.
Paul Sancya
A dry water fountain is shown at Gardner Elementary School in Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.

For a few schools near the Maine coast, back-to-school preparations include installing new water filtration systems to eliminate high levels of PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals."

Recent testing shows at least seven schools have drinking water with PFAS levels higher than the state standard of 20 parts per trillion, according to Maine's latest report.

The installation of a new water filtration system for the Mount Desert Island High School will begin Tuesday and should be finished by the end of the week, said Mike Zboray, the regional school system's superintendent.

State testing of drinking water at the Mount Desert Island High School showed PFAS levels at 85 parts per trillion. State officials will return to campus to help the school identify where the PFAS are coming from, which could include a well that provides water for the fields, Zborary said.

"They're going to come and take a look at the separate well that does irrigation," he said. "There is a small marsh area at the front of the property. We thought that water should get tested as well."

State testing of public drinking water at Brooklin New Elementary School and Deer Isle/Stonington Junior-Senior High School showed PFAS levels at more than 100 parts per trillion, well over Maine's standard of 20 parts per trillion.

Each school received a grant from the Maine Drinking Water program to cover the costs of installing water filtration systems, said School Union 76 Superintendent Dan Ross.

The grants require that the school district conduct an environmental impact study and receive three quotes for filtration equipment.

In the meantime, Ross said both schools will open next week with bottled drinking water.

"We're ready to go on the school side. If we get the quotes back, the minute I get those I'm running to my board chairs and saying when can we set up a meeting?" he said. "Right now it's just waiting on that process. It takes time. The frustrating part is just waiting."

In Searsmont, tests from June showed that Ames Elementary School had PFAS levels at nearly 90 parts per trillion. Mary Alice McLean, the district's superintendent, said a state-approved water filtration system should be installed at the school by the time students return on Sept. 1.

Other schools pursuing treatment for elevated PFAS levels in drinking water include Chebeague Island School, Unity College and Washington County Community College, according to the state's report.