AUGUSTA — Wendy Brennan held up a bottle containing what appeared to be crystal-clear, safe drinking water taken from a faucet in her home.

But her well water contains almost five times as much arsenic as the national maximum standard, Brennan said.

Brennan, a mother and grandmother from Mount Vernon, was joined Thursday at the State House by a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce a bill to promote testing well water for arsenic.

“For eight years, I didn’t know our water was contaminated,” Brennan said. She found out after one of her daughters took part in a Columbia University study that found a correlation between lower IQ scores and arsenic in drinking water.

Arsenic occurs naturally in bedrock and can contaminate groundwater. It is a known carcinogen, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Under terms of the bill, money generated from state laboratory tests would be directed into a new fund within Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention to help educate residents to get their well water tested. Tenants living on well water would obtain water testing results from their landlords, something that isn’t currently required.

State Sen.-elect Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, said she first became aware of the problem while campaigning in March. She waited until after the election to get her water tested, and it showed unsafe levels of arsenic.

“My husband and I have been drinking unsafe well water for years,” Bellows said. “In Manchester, 58.9 percent of the tested wells have unsafe levels of arsenic, so I am very proud to stand with Republicans and Democrats to support this legislation.”

Bellows said she worries that a lot of families don’t know their water is contaminated and that many couldn’t afford to treat their water if necessary.

“I do believe that safe drinking water is a basic human right, and I think there is a role for government to play in helping offset some of the costs (for treatment),” Bellows said.

Rep.-elect Kent Ackley, a Monmouth independent, said the towns he represents, which also include Litchfield and Wales, are “in the running for being the arsenic bedrock capital of the state.” He said half of the wells tested in those towns show arsenic levels above the acceptable limit.

“Arsenic is a heavy metal, and heavy metals don’t discriminate,” Ackley said.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, said the language in the bill will be similar to one vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage in 2015. That bill, L.D. 1162, fell just two votes short of overriding the governor’s veto. Gattine said he doesn’t want to make assumptions about what LePage might do if a similar bill comes to his desk.

“It’s not a political issue,” Gattine said. “I think there is support across the political spectrum to make sure people have clean water, and I hope we’re going to have enough support that it wouldn’t matter if he was going to veto it or not.”

In his veto message, LePage said the bill was unnecessary because testing of private wells had increased from about 26.5 percent in 2003 to 45 percent in 2012.

A spokeswoman from the governor’s office did not return a request for comment.


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