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Don't Maine Kids Deserve Safe Drinking Water?

Safe drinking water
02.23.2016
The crisis in Flint, Michigan is sparking important conversations nationwide about access to safe drinking water, free of toxic chemicals that impact brain development.

Flint’s contaminated public water supply was in violation of safety standards established by the 1974 U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, the law responsible for federal investigation into Michigan leaders’ sluggish response to the crisis.

 

But that law does nothing to protect the 1.5 million U.S. households with children and families who drink water from wells, which are not required to meet a safety standard.

And that’s where Maine’s leaders must focus.

More than half of Maine residents drink well water, and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that thousands of Maine families are drinking well water contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic. Currently, only 45 percent of residents with well water are getting their water tested. Plenty more don't know the water they’re drinking is unsafe.

Scientists link arsenic in wells to skin cancer, bladder cancer, and lower IQ in children. Less than two years ago, in a study of Kennebec County schools, kids with higher levels of arsenic in their water had average IQ scores 5 – 6 points lower than their peers.

In both Flint and Maine, the burden of harm falls disproportionately on lower income families. The majority of rural residents in Maine are on well water.  And most of Maine’s rural counties are economically distressed, with childhood poverty exceeding 20 percent. The cost of treatment of unsafe water can easily exceed a family’s ability to pay.

Last year, Governor Paul LePage’s administration rejected federal dollars that would have supported statewide education efforts to boost testing of residential well water. When a bipartisan group of state legislators sent a letter urging the Administration to disclose how they planned to improve the state’s testing rate, officials replied they would use “existing resources.” ​But they have not announced any plans since.

Maine public health officials have no legal obligation to make residential well water safe, but they do have a moral imperative to reduce the number of families drinking unsafe water. Especially in the wake of Flint, shouldn’t we make sure our kids have something as essential as safe drinking water?