A coalition of health and education organizations are pressing the administration of Gov. Paul LePage to step up its efforts to reduce exposure of state residents to arsenic found well water across the state.

Concern about arsenic is especially high in Kennebec County, where tests of private wells have shown higher concentrations than the federal standard and more than in any other Maine county.

The coalition delivered a letter Wednesday urging LePage to direct the state Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to reduce the number of Maine families exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic in their drinking water. Arsenic has been associated with some cancers and may cause low birth weight and affect brain development in babies and children.

The Environmental Health Strategy Center, the Maine Public Health Association, the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Maine Children’s Alliance, the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine and Physicians for Social Responsibility have joined together to call for more outreach and education to increase the rate of well water testing; dedicated state resources to support outreach, testing and treatment; and a time line with specific benchmarks.

“We hope you agree with us that all Maine families should have affordable access to safe drinking water. We stand ready to collaborate with you in developing a serious plan of action,” the letter states.

LePage’s communications office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Wednesday.

In mid-2015, the LePage administration opted not to reapply for a federal grant that the Maine Center for Disease Control had won that would boost well water testing for arsenic and other toxic chemicals because it said parts of the program were inefficient and because it didn’t think the state should compete with private industry. About the same time, state lawmakers failed to override a LePage veto of a bill that would have promoted well water testing by imposing a fee on water tests performed at a state laboratory to fund education programs.

The coalition fears these two actions will cause Maine to fall short of meeting the benchmark of testing at least 65 percent of its drinking water wells for arsenic by 2020. To date, only 45 percent have tested their wells.

At the same time, lawmakers included $200,000 in the state’s two-year budget for the Maine State Housing Authority for loans and grants to low-income residents to remediate arsenic. Arsenic contamination is a widespread problem in several areas across Maine, but especially in Kennebec County, where 29 percent of private wells tested by the state from 2005 to 2009 had higher concentrations of arsenic than the federal standard, more than in any other Maine county.

When Veronica Currier Boucher’s son Kyle was 7, he started having some behavioral problems at school and started bumping into walls.

“Behavior is a symptom of something,” Currier Boucher said, and she started investigating — what he was eating, what he was drinking, what he was exposed to on a daily basis — because she didn’t want to medicate him if she didn’t have to.

One of the steps she took was to test the family’s well water, and she found it contained arsenic.

As it happens, Currier Boucher lives in Manchester, where a 2010 U.S. Geological Survey study found that 62 percent of the wells have arsenic levels that exceed federal limits for safe drinking water.

After aggressive intervention, she said, including seeking treatment and using bottled water, her son’s condition improved, and he’s currently a junior at the Maine Maritime Academy.

“I’m worried still about him. What water is he drinking? What’s he doing?” she said.

For all the light that’s shined on the issue, many people are still unaware they should test their well water.

Craig Winter, who owns Advanced Quality Water Solutions, said sometimes homeowners are unaware they have a problem until they are required — by a real estate transaction, for instance — to test their well water.

“I get calls all the time,” Winter said. “In some cases, people have been drinking that water for 20 years.”

There are costs of both testing and treating water.

Tests tend to cost about $125. What those tests find will dictate the kind of treatment applied.

“There are a lot of different considerations, which lead to a particular choice,” he said. “It depends on the water chemistry.”

A point of use option, which is a separate faucet in the kitchen that supplies treated water, might cost up to $1,500 to install. More complicated systems that treat all the water that enters a house can cost around $8,000. No matter the type of system, he said, they all require maintenance to ensure they are working properly.

“Government leadership is essential to addressing this silent and preventable epidemic,” Michael Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said in a news release that accompanied the letter’s delivery.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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