People who know that the water in their well might contain hazardous chemicals generally have those wells tested, then take action if any irregularities are found.

Unfortunately, in Maine, that message is not getting through, even as evidence shows a significant number of wells here contain arsenic in levels exceeding what is considered safe.

The result is a public health problem that likely has been harming Mainers for years, but in such a silent and slow manner that it has largely been overlooked.

Recent research, however, makes it impossible to ignore the state’s arsenic problem, and it calls for a solution that makes the tens of thousands of Mainers using wells more aware of what’s going on in their water.

L.D. 1162, which will soon go before the full House of Representatives, would do just that, by establishing a fund for well-testing outreach and education, paid for through a $5 fee assessed to each well test conducted by the state laboratory.

Gone from the original version of the bill are fees taken from private companies when they conduct well tests or install filtration systems, as well as a requirement for home sellers to disclose a test done in the last three years and a requirement to test a new well when it is dug.

What is left is a streamlined bill free from burdensome mandates that will lead more Mainers to test their wells, and prevent costly health problems.

Arsenic — colorless, odorless and naturally occurring in the bedrock that is prevalent in Maine — has been linked to a number of cancers as well as poor fetal development and other health issues.

It also appears to impair cognitive function, lower IQ scores and raise instances of behavior and attention problems in students.

A recent study found that students in Kennebec and York counties who were using wells that tested between 5 and 10 micrograms per liter — considered safe by federal standards — averaged IQ scores of 5 or 6 points below the students exposed at a lower level, even when accounting for all the variables that influence educational achievement.

That matches research conducted in other arsenic hotspots, and hints at the steep cost of widespread arsenic exposure, even at low levels.

And in some parts of Maine, the exposure is far from low. Twenty-nine percent of wells tested in Kennebec County and 24.5 percent in Hancock County tested higher than 10 micrograms per liter. Some wells tested at 40 to 50 times that amount.

Yet many Maine wells remain untested, their owners unaware of the danger.

A simple, layered initiative that combines media coverage, public service announcements, fliers for residents of arsenic “hot spots,” and vouchers and discounts to incentivize testing is necessary to raise testing rates.

L.D. 1162 would fund these efforts and others, driving home the point that testing must be done, and it must be done on a regular basis, even after filtration systems are installed.

Lawmakers should pass this bill, and spare Mainers from finding out too late that their water has been causing them harm.

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