SCARBOROUGH — As a state senator representing a district that is rapidly growing with people who come here to raise their families, I feel an obligation to do what I can to give children the best shot at healthy, productive lives. That means making sure that all children have access to safe and clean drinking water.

Unfortunately, too often Maine families are unknowingly drinking water that is contaminated with levels of arsenic that are above the national safe drinking water standard.

My district happens to be a hotspot for arsenic: In Gorham, an overwhelming 57 percent of our private wells are contaminated with too-high arsenic levels, while arsenic contaminates 47.5 percent of Scarborough’s private drinking water and 41.2 percent of wells in Buxton.

That’s really scary when you consider that arsenic is linked to cancers of the bladder, skin and lung. Maine has the highest rate of bladder cancer in the nation, followed closely by New Hampshire, a state that shares our aquifer and has a very similar problem with arsenic in groundwater.

Arsenic is also linked with lowered IQ scores. When a study came out showing that Kennebec County children exposed to arsenic in their drinking water had IQ scores 5 to 6 points lower than youngsters who hadn’t been exposed, I thought about the children in my own district who could be drinking similarly contaminated water. That amount of difference in IQ is significant enough to require special education services, and can produce dramatic learning disabilities that really change the course of a child’s life.

What’s even scarier is that despite the risks, too few people know that they need to test their water. Statewide, only 45 percent of Mainers with private wells have gotten their water tested for arsenic.


That’s probably because arsenic is a silent poison: Unlike other water contaminants that produce bad smells or bad taste in water, arsenic is totally odorless, tasteless and colorless. The only way to know whether there is arsenic in private well water is by sending a sample to a professional water testing laboratory.

There are two new policy proposals before the Legislature that will address this problem, and I have been proud to support both. The budget that was just passed by legislators includes funding to support low-income families in purchasing water treatment systems to mitigate arsenic in well water. That’s important because many of these treatment systems can be quite expensive to purchase and maintain.

There is also a bill, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support – L.D. 1162, “An Act to Ensure Safe Drinking Water for All Maine Families” – which would do the important work of raising awareness to get more people testing their water.

We need public service announcements, community events, advertisements and better information at the fingertips of Maine residents, so that we can drive up the number of Mainers who test their water for arsenic and other toxic chemicals. People won’t act on a threat unless they know that the threat is there.

So as the weather heats up and we start urging our kids to drink lots of water to avoid summer dehydration, I have two key messages.

 First, I urge anyone who has a private drinking water well to get a water test. Testing for arsenic, as well as for other common contaminants like uranium, should take place every three to five years.


And for those who have already tested their water and installed a treatment system, you still need to get a water test every one to two years to ensure that the system is working. Call up any local testing laboratory and they will help you get a test kit.

Second, since our governor has chosen to send L.D. 1162 back to the Legislature, I urge my colleagues to override his veto, to make sure Mainers are in the know about arsenic in their drinking water.

The bill imposes no mandates on citizens and does not place any burden on businesses; this is a bill that is simply about raising much-needed awareness. L.D. 1162 has received bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate, and is championed by legislators on both sides of the aisle who have lots of arsenic in their districts.

Let’s take action to avoid putting more Maine kids at risk of cancer or learning disabilities. A vote for L.D. 1162 is a vote for our children’s future.

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