Lawmakers and citizens call for passage of LD 1162, Act to Ensure Safe Drinking Water for Maine Families
April 21, 2015–Representative Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, and Representative Gary L. Hilliard, R-Belgrade, this morning spoke out in support of a new bipartisan bill that addresses the high level of naturally occurring contaminants such as arsenic found in private wells that Mainers rely on as drinking water. The Democrat and Republican legislators were joined by a group of citizens with direct experiences with arsenic in well water who will be testifying at the bill’s public hearing this afternoon.
One such citizen, Susan Gilpin, a retired pastor and resident of Falmouth, said that even though she tested her water when she first bought her West Falmouth house, she did not know about the need to retest every three to five years. “Seven years later I tested again and our water flunked, and we had to live with knowing that we were drinking unsafe water that whole time”, said Gilpin.
David Blocher shared his story of finding unsafe arsenic levels at his home in Litchfield, a town where almost half of private wells contain unsafe arsenic levels. “I found nearly 50 mg/L of arsenic in my own well water in 2001, and felt very fortunate that I could afford $1,200 for a treatment system” said Blocher. “I really worry about the people who don’t know to test, or who can’t afford treatment.”
The US Geological Survey has found that as many as 150,000 Maine households could be drinking water with dangerously high levels of arsenic. One in ten private wells are estimated to be contaminated with unsafe arsenic levels, and several towns are hotspots, with 30% or more of private residential wells contaminated. Yet only half of private well water residents test their drinking water for arsenic and other common chemical contaminants like radon and uranium.
Public health advocates supporting LD 1162, called an Act to Ensure Safe Drinking Water for All Maine Families, say the bill would help remove the barriers that are preventing Mainers from accessing safe drinking water.
Representative Drew Gattine, the bill’s lead sponsor, said that his bill is about tackling a public health crisis. “Too many families do not realize that there is arsenic in their water and when they do test their water, some find that they cannot afford to have treatment systems installed” said Gattine. “That’s why we need to make sure Mainers have good information about arsenic in well water, and that Maine families can access affordable treatment.”
Republican Representative Gary Hilliard who owned a contracting business says he saw unsafe levels of arsenic in about half of the homes he built in his hometown of Belgrade. “My district is a hotspot area for arsenic, and it’s really concerning to me that only half of our residents with private well water are testing their drinking water” he said. “We need to raise awareness and get people testing and treating their wells.”
Arsenic is naturally occurring in Maine bedrock and is a carcinogen, linked to skin, bladder, lung, and liver cancers. Chronic exposure to lower doses of arsenic in drinking water were observed in Maine to cause a significant lowering in IQ score of 5 – 6 points among Maine school children, and exposure to arsenic in drinking water during pregnancy was linked to premature birth, lowered birth weight, and infant respiratory problems among women in New Hampshire. Yet less than half of residents with private wells are testing their wells for arsenic and other toxic chemicals, according to data from Maine’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Regina Creeley, a retired special education teacher from Hudson, expressed her concern about the lowered IQs of Maine children as a result of arsenic exposure. “It is such a shame that a totally preventable exposure to arsenic in drinking water can create so many challenges for children and all the teachers and parents who are trying to achieve educational success,” she said. “We need to protect the cognitive health of each Maine child so that they can achieve their highest potential and then contribute back to their communities as adults.”
Several bill cosponsors attended the event which was hosted by Prevent Harm, a public health organization that works to protect Maine families from toxic chemicals.
The bill, LD 1162, An Act to Ensure Safe Drinking Water for All Maine Families sponsored by Representative Gattine, will be heard before the Health and Human Services Committee later this afternoon and addresses the issue of unsafe drinking water in several ways. The legislation would raise awareness about the need to test by establishing a Private Well Safe Drinking Water Fund for outreach and education to community members, and by simplifying the state’s public health website to create a uniform recommendation for private well water testing.
The bill would also address the barrier to treatment by assisting low-income Mainers in purchasing treatment for contaminated well water. Treatment systems can cost a few hundred dollars or reach a few thousand depending on the levels of contamination.
The bill establishes roles for landlords, well drillers, and realtors to improve the rate of testing. Landlords would be required to disclose the results of recent water tests as would realtors, and well drillers would be required to ensure that there is a water test when a new well is drilled.
The event was organized by Prevent Harm, a public health organization that works to protect the health of Maine families from exposure to toxic chemicals.