Recently, the national media has been paying more attention to public drinking water due to the crisis in Flint, Michigan. While it is unfortunate it takes a crisis to generate appropriate review and discussions at the national and state levels, it underscores the critical importance of clean and safe drinking water.

Like so many public infrastructure systems, citizens may take for granted the safe and high-quality drinking water that pours through our faucets every day in Maine. The work by the public and private water systems and efforts of state regulatory staff are not necessarily at the top of our minds when we fill a glass with tap water.

But the crisis in Flint offers an opportunity to bring to the forefront Maine’s commitment to protecting and ensuring safe, quality public drinking water, the state’s long-standing track record of high-quality water systems, and ongoing efforts to continually improve tracking systems and policies.

It’s important for the people of Maine to know that their public drinking water is well-regulated and safe to drink. Maine has not had a case of lead poisoning solely attributed to Maine’s public drinking water in the last decade. If a situation arose where public drinking water posed an imminent danger, Maine would take swift, effective action, as it has in the past.

The reality is that Maine is not Flint. Flint has challenges with many lead water lines being a part of its water-line infrastructure, while Maine’s public water systems rarely encounter a lead service line. The crisis in Michigan was caused by a deliberate change to the water chemistry in source water. It was exacerbated by a failure to monitor the impact of that change on water quality.

Maine’s issues with lead contamination are extremely limited and fundamentally different than those in Michigan. Maine’s concerns pertain to lead solder from internal residential, business or public plumbing that leaks lead when water is corrosive and remains stagnant for many hours. This concern can be addressed by running water when it is first drawn for at least 60 seconds, which significantly reduces risk.

The Maine CDC Drinking Water Program provides regulatory oversight of 750 systems, administering rules and regulations established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It conducts 2,500 tests across Maine’s public drinking water systems every year. The operators of Maine’s public water systems act quickly in addressing any lead action level including federally mandated notifications and education for system users. They also make system changes when necessary, like installing and operating treatment systems to reduce the corrosiveness of the water.

Today, Maine has 25 water systems with lead levels greater than 15 parts per billion. This federally established level serves as an early warning and ensures prompt and appropriate early interventions. The state provides oversight and works closely with systems to ensure compliance. Maine’s rate of public water systems with lead action levels remains below the national average.

Unlike the current situation in Flint, Maine’s biggest challenge with lead is paint used in homes built before 1950.

Maine has and continues to be aggressive in its response to childhood lead poisoning. Our state is working to put all the pieces in place to enact a new law that mandates home inspections for lead hazards when a child has a blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood or higher. Maine is one of only two states to take such action.

As we work to implement this major expansion of inspections, Maine is offering free testing for lead dust in homes where children have tested positive for blood lead levels at this lower level. If a test finds high levels of lead paint dust, an inspection to identify and address any lead hazards, including water, takes place. We continue education and outreach in Maine’s high-risk areas for lead poisoning and send information about testing to all Maine families with a 1-year-old. Free lead tests are offered for any family living in a house built before 1950. Tests may be ordered at and results are provided at no cost.

There is no question that we must continue to educate about the negative impact that lead exposure may have on young children and to connect parents with resources. At the same time, Mainers should have confidence in the current regulation of drinking water systems and ongoing efforts in other programs that meet or exceed national standards to minimize exposure to lead in all environments.

Kenneth Albert is the director and chief operating officer of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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