BAR HARBOR — Bruce A. Stanton, the director of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program and a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, will talk about “What’s in Your Drinking Water?” at an MDI Science Café at the MDI Biological Laboratory’s Kinne Library on Monday, Aug. 22, at 5 p.m.
The national outrage over the public health threat from lead contamination of the public water supply in Flint, Mich., has raised public awareness of the potential dangers of drinking water across the country and in Maine, where many residential wells are contaminated with arsenic and other toxic substances.
In particular, Stanton will talk about arsenic, which has a greater impact on human health than any other environmental contaminant, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Water from up to 10 percent of residential wells in Maine has high arsenic levels, with that number reaching 60 percent in some areas in the coastal “arsenic belt.” While regulations require that public water supplies be treated to reduce arsenic, private wells are not regulated.
Even low levels of arsenic in drinking water have been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and reproductive and developmental problems.
Stanton, a trustee of the MDI Biological Laboratory, was the organizer of a summit on the environmental and health consequences of arsenic held at the laboratory in 2014. The summit convened scientists, government officials, educators and representatives of industry, agriculture and the nonprofit sector to identify and commit to an action plan to address the health challenges posed by arsenic.
Since the summit, Stanton has been working to implement the summit’s goals, which include reducing exposure to arsenic, building awareness and increasing education about the arsenic’s health impacts, and developing a network of stakeholders committed to achieving these goals.
One of the outcomes is “All about Arsenic,” a collaborative effort in Maine and New Hampshire designed to serve as a national model. The program, led by Jane Disney, senior staff scientist and director of education at the MDI Biological Laboratory, tests well water in cooperation with schools and other community partners and educates residents about arsenic. The tests are conducted by the Dartmouth superfund program.
Stanton’s scientific interests include how environmental toxins, including arsenic, affect disease progression and outcome. The objective of one area of his research is to elucidate how arsenic increases the incidence of atherosclerotic disease and diabetes, as well as several types of drug-resistant cancers.
MDI Science Cafés are offered to promote scientific literacy and increase public engagement with science. The events offer a chance to hear directly from scientists about their latest research. Short presentations delivered in everyday language are followed by lively, informal discussion.
The cafés are sponsored by Bar Harbor Bank & Trust and Cross Insurance.