This newspaper should be commended for providing excellent coverage of the problem of arsenic in private well water in Maine.

It is troubling that Maine has taken a step backward in protecting its residents from arsenic exposure, via the governor’s veto of the bill that would have expanded outreach to private well owners and the lapse in federal funding to the Center of Disease Control to cover the cost of testing private well water.

Mainers are routinely exposed to arsenic by drinking contaminated water, and some wells contain extremely high arsenic levels. It may be difficult to grasp arsenic’s risks, especially for those who have been drinking contaminated well water for many years and don’t appear to be sick. Drinking arsenic-contaminated water raises our risk of developing cancer and other health problems, but it doesn’t mean that everyone who is exposed will get cancer.

It is understandable that readers such as Richard Eaton, whose July 12 letter called the arsenic problem “hogwash,” would downplay the risks because they haven’t seen the health problems themselves. But Eaton is incorrect in dismissing arsenic as a threat.

It is well-established scientifically that arsenic is a hazardous substance, linked definitively to numerous forms of cancer in humans, as well as to cognitive deficits in children and to heart disease. The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently re-evaluated the cancer risk of arsenic in drinking water and concluded it may be 17 times more potent a human carcinogen than previously believed.

It is also incorrect to say that we need arsenic, because there is no known essential role for arsenic in the human body. We should be taking a step forward, not backward, by providing more help to Mainers so they can protect themselves from this preventable risk.

Gail Carlson


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