As many as 150,000 Maine residents unknowingly drink well water containing dangerously high levels of arsenic, a toxic chemical that is known to cause cancer, and which has been proven to have lowered IQ levels in Maine schoolchildren.

That is the definition of a public health problem, and it deserves a robust public health response.

Yet, in the time since these facts became indisputably clear, the LePage administration has resisted efforts to improve the state’s poor record on well testing.

Just last summer, the governor vetoed a bill that would have helped fund outreach toward Mainers with untested wells shortly after the Department of Health and Human Services decided against reapplying for a $300,000 federal grant that for the previous two years had been the main funding for outreach.

Eight months later, the administration appears to have no plan for getting more Mainers off toxic drinking water than to continue what has already been done, albeit without the federal grant.

Given what we know arsenic in Maine, that’s just not enough.

We know that more than 40 percent of Maine residents are on well water, but less than half of wells have been tested recently, mostly because owners don’t know to test them.

We know that in parts of Maine — areas around Augusta and Scarborough, and Down East — arsenic has seeped out of bedrock and into well water at levels above the federal standard, and in some cases 50, 60 times the standard.

And we know that exposure to even low levels of arsenic lowered the IQ levels of grade-school students in Kennebec and York counties as many as six points when compared with their peers.

It’s clear that Maine has a problem bigger than a few homeowners who have neglected to test their wells, and that the state has an interest in stopping young students from drinking water that could lead to a lifetime of consequences.

However, in response, LePage has offered nothing more than critiques of government spending and a defense of maintaining the status quo (or less).

It is not clear today, without the grant, what resources the state is spending on identifying trouble wells and helping homeowners with mitigation, besides operating an informational website, nor is it apparent how the administration is tracking the success of its efforts.

Given LePage’s lack of urgency surrounding the issue, we can’t assume all is well.

Last week, a group of public health advocacy organizations asked the governor to clarify his administration’s efforts.

Unfortunately, he has not replied. Maine’s goal is to test 65 percent of wells by 2020, and the public deserves to know how the state is going to get there.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: