Wells in Maine Contaminated With Arsenic; Scientists Urge Residents to Take Action

In Augusta, Maine, concerns are being raised about potential contamination in tap water. Scientists shared their research last week at the Maine Sustainability and Water Conference held by Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.

Scientists are encouraging residents to test their water for invisible pollutants such as lead and arsenic. Their goal isn’t to frighten people, but rather to educate them about the potential dangers of contaminated tap water.

“The major problem is that Maine has a high reliance on wells, but very few people test their wells,” said Anna Farrell of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor. “And knowing what to do with that information once you get it is also not known.”

Arsenic is a toxic chemical that is naturally found in Maine’s bedrock and soil. According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It dissolves into the drinking water through the ground or as runoff, eventually making its way into the private wells that more than half of Maine residents solely rely on for drinking water.

About 90% of our freshwater supplies lie underground, but less than 27% of the water Americans use comes from underground sources, which illustrates the underutilization of groundwater. But considering that an estimated 10% of wells in Maine have elevated levels of arsenic, perhaps those numbers are too high.

Drinking arsenic-contaminated water can lead to the development of health issues such as skin damage, stomach pain, nausea, circulation problems, and tingling in the hands and feet. Long term exposure can increase the risk of developing cancers of the skin, bladder, and lungs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In children, arsenic exposure can cause low birth weights and affect brain development.

Ultimately, the Maine CDC highly recommends testing tap water every three to five years for arsenic, lead, uranium, radon, and fluoride levels. Tests are available at laboratories across the state and generally cost no more than $100. If high levels of arsenic are detected, the Maine CDC suggests using bottled water for drinking and cooking or installing a water filtration system. Arsenic water filtration through activated carbon water filters will reduce the amount of arsenic in drinking water from 40% to 70%. Anion exchange can reduce it by 90% to 100%. Reverse osmosis has a 90% removal rate, and water distillation will remove 98% of arsenic from water.

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