I am writing a letter in response to the one below by Conners Emerson student Calie Reece. I am emphasizing the maximum contaminant levels as 10 parts per billion in Maine and 5 parts per billion in New Hampshire, as Calie mistakenly reported these as parts per million. Hopefully the parts per billion will stick in people’s minds, as these are much lower thresholds than Calie reported. It is very dangerous to be chronically exposed to these low levels. Thank you for publishing.
To the Editor:
Kudos to Conners Emerson student Calie Reece and her teacher Lynn Hanna and classmates for testing their well water for arsenic as part of MDI Biological Laboratory’s Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program, Data to Action: A secondary school-based citizen science project to address arsenic contamination of well water.
In both Maine and New Hampshire, well water tends to be high in arsenic due to the nature of the bedrock through which most wells are drilled. Arsenic can have devastating health impacts, as Calie outlined, leading to cardiovascular problems, diabetes, cancer, developmental delays in young children, and more.
To clarify, the EPA has set a maximum contaminant level at 10 parts per billion. However, studies have revealed health issues from long-term exposure to even lower levels of arsenic, leading experts in epidemiology to conclude that this standard is not low enough. Because of the compelling outcomes of these studies, our neighboring state, New Hampshire, lowered their maximum contaminant level to 5 parts per billion.
Conners Emerson students found that of the 22 Bar Harbor homes that her class surveyed, five had arsenic levels very close to or over 5 parts per billion; one of these was over 10 parts per billion. A change in the maximum contaminant level for Maine is something that the state is considering.
In the meantime, homeowners who find out they have high arsenic in their well water can switch to bottled water, use a ZeroWater pitcher filter, or put a point of use filter on their kitchen sink. In some cases, a whole house filtration system might be necessary. The Maine State Housing Authority provides support for families who cannot afford filtrations systems for their homes.
Next school year, Conners Emerson students will work with the town of Bar Harbor to increase well water testing rates. The outcome of this testing might help to inform the state on whether to adopt a lower maximum contaminant level. Then maybe arsenic related illnesses in both Maine and New Hampshire will be on the decline.
Senior staff scientist
MDI Biological Laboratory