Student Project Exposes Lead in School Water

One Maine student’s simple observation exposed a major problem in her school district: elevated levels of lead in the drinking water. 

"Our water in the school didn’t taste so good," said Lillian Sherburne, a student at Boothbay Region High School. She was assigned to do a school project that embraced a school or community issue, and decided to look into the water quality. 

"I asked if our water has ever been tested," she said. "It’s an older school… and they said no, it had never been tested." 

Sherburne’s project caught the attention of Superintendent Eileen King. 

"I requested testing immediately," said King, who ordered every water fixture texted. Approximately 150 tests later, 47 tests came back showing elevated levels of lead in the elementary and high school. 

"We consider this to be very serious," said King. 

Test results posted on the school district’s website show one classroom in the Boothbay Region Elementary School had a reading of 840 ug/L, which is 42 times the EPA standard level of 20 ug/L. 

King said school officials have been consulting health and water experts from the start, and supplying parents with information throughout the investigation. A number of documents, including water test results, have been posted on the AOS 98 website

The school has issued a "no use" order for water, prohibiting anyone from drinking or cooking with Boothbay Region school water. As every fixture is tested and replaced, the school district is supplying students with bottled water. 

Elevated levels of lead can cause brain damage, among other physical side effects. King said she is not aware of any students being harmed by the water, but they are taking serious steps to insure that all students are safe, and the lead is addressed. 

While the taste of the water has nothing to do with the level of lead, it was the issue that started Lillian Sherburne’s school project – and she said she is grateful that she spoke up, and the school took action immediately. 

"I think it really shows that youth can make change in their community, and be empowered by the simple questions that they have," she said. 

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