BAR HARBOR — Two of Hancock County’s new school superintendents are busy this summer handling mitigation for school wells, which have been found to have the highest levels for so-called “forever chemicals,” also known as PFAS [per‐ and polyfluoroalkyl substances] in public water sources in Maine.
The man‐made chemicals have been widely used since the 1940s in consumer products and industrial applications, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Mount Desert Island High School, Brooklin Elementary School and Deer Isle-Stonington High School all had water test results showing PFAS chemicals much higher than the state of Maine drinking water standard of 20 parts per trillion.
That standard was established by the Maine Legislature in June 2021. Also, it’s considered by the state to be an “interim” standard.
Mount Desert Island Regional School System (AOS 91) Superintendent Mike Zboray, who had been interim superintendent but started July 1 on a permanent basis, said he hopes to have a carbon filtration system installed this summer. If not, MDI High School will have bottled water until the system is installed.
MDI had results of 85 parts per trillion.
“We have the Summer Festival of the Arts Camp here, that’s all bottled water,” Zboray said. “We’ll just continue bottled water until the system is in.”
The Brooklin school had a reading of 106.6 parts per trillion.
“Because of the PFAS levels, we’re pricing out a filter system to install in the school,” said new Union 76 Superintendent Dan Ross, speaking of Brooklin. “That will basically solve the problem.”
Union 76 includes Brooklin, Sedgwick and Community School District 13, representing Deer Isle-Stonington schools.
The situation in Deer Isle is a bit more complicated. Deer Isle-Stonington High School had the highest result of 122.8 parts per trillion, according to a copy of the test results.
“We have two wells that feed the high school,” Ross said. “We’re in the process of parsing out those water sources to see if one is good and one isn’t.”
Interestingly enough, even though the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School is a strong pitcher’s stone’s throw from the high school, the water at the elementary school is fine.
Zboray said his operations manager is trying to figure out the source, as is Ross.
“It’s one thing to filter it out of your system but it’s another to know where it’s coming from,” Zboray said. “It’s insidious.”
The Maine CDC states on its website that higher levels of PFAS in drinking water does not necessarily mean that people exposed will have health problems.
“It does mean that you should take action to reduce the amount of the contaminated water you are drinking,” the agency stated.
The Maine CDC said the degree of risk depends on the level of chemicals and duration of exposure. Laboratory studies of animals exposed to high doses of PFAS have shown numerous negative effects such as issues with reproduction, growth and development, thyroid function, immune system, neurology, as well as injury to the liver.
Firefighting foam (AFFF) is made with PFOA and PFOS due to their extreme effectiveness at quickly extinguishing petroleum‐based fires.
The CDC stated that due to their widespread use and persistence in the environment, most people in the U.S. have been exposed to some level of PFAS. Food has been packaged in materials and processed with equipment that uses PFAS. Household products such as stain‐ and water‐resistant fabrics (like clothes, towels or sheets), along with carpeting, non‐stick cookware, cleaning products and paints, all contain PFAS. Workplaces such as production facilities and industrial settings have used PFAS in their day-to-day operations.
For more information, visit www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/dwp/pws/pfas.shtml.