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Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto to Pass Law Helping Rural Maine Families Access Safe and Affordable Drinking Water

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Prevent Harm and Environmental Health Strategy Center
08.03.2017

LD 1263 creates fund to help families treat arsenic-contaminated well water.  

AUGUSTA, Maine, August 3, 2017—A safe drinking water law, passed yesterday by the Maine Legislature through a decisive bipartisan override of the Governor's veto, will help Maine families who need to treat arsenic-contaminated well water.  It's the second safe drinking water law the legislature has passed this year, as a public health campaign continues work to tackle the arsenic crisis in Maine.

LD 1263, “An Act To Increase the Affordability of Safe Drinking Water for Maine Families,” will set aside $500,000 to make surelow-income families have access to safe drinking water. Specifically, the bill will help families install filtration systems when they have arsenic in their well water, but don’t have the means to treat it.The Governor’s veto was overridden with strong bipartisan support: 100-34 in the House and 27-7 in the Senate.

“This law provides desperately needed resources to make sure every child in Maine has access to safe water,” said Emily Postman of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and Prevent Harm, two organizations working in Maine for safe drinking water policy and education. “We were grateful to see the Maine Legislature take steps to make sure that all Maine people, no matter where they live or how much money they make, have access to safe drinking water.”

Arsenic-contaminated well water is a silent epidemic in Maine, a largely rural state where over half of the population relies on well water for drinking, cooking, and bathing.

An estimated one of every eight wells in Maine is contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic. That puts the 100,000 rural Mainers drinking from arsenic-contaminated wells at risk of arsenic-related bladder, liver, and skin cancer. In children, arsenic harms developing brains. A 2014 study of Kennebec County schoolchildren found that arsenic in water could contribute to a lowering of IQ scores by an average 5–6 points.

"I’d like to thank the families who made the trek to the State House in Augusta to tell their stories and show my colleagues how important this law is,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Joyce Maker (R-Washington). “Thanks to their efforts, families across the state will be protected from arsenic in their water.”

A separate drinking water law passed in June, also through a veto override, will expand outreach and education around arsenic in well water. Less than half of those on well water in Maine test it for arsenic and other contaminants.

Testing well water is the first step. But once families discover their water is contaminated, too many cannot afford treatment systems—which can cost as much as several thousand dollars—to fix the problem and protect their children.

“I am overwhelmed and overjoyed to see this law passed,” said Wendy Brennan, a mom of two from Mt. Vernon who discovered that her well water contained high levels of arsenic after her family had relied on it for nearly ten years. “A lot of rural families in Maine are struggling paycheck to paycheck, and they can’t afford the hundreds or thousands of dollars it can cost to install a filtration system. They needed this law to help protect their children.

“It means there are going to babies born who won’t have to drink poison in their baby bottles. ”

Postman said the two new laws are significant steps toward ensuring education and support are available to help rural Mainers affected by arsenic-contaminated drinking water.

“This is a big step forward, but there’s still more work to be done to end this public health crisis,” Postman said. “We will keep working, together with legislators, businesses, and community members, until every child in Maine can grow up with safe drinking water.”

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Environmental Health Strategy Center is a public health organization based in Maine and ​working for healthy people thriving in a healthy economy. We educate and organize people and partners to advocate for two intertwined solutions: reducing humans' exposure to toxic chemicals in food, drinking water, and products, and sustainably manufacturing products that are safe for people and the planet. Together, these solutions can reduce disease and disability linked to toxic chemicals—cancer, infertility, learning disabilities, birth defects, autism, allergies, and asthma—and create a healthy economy based on good-paying jobs and careers created by manufacturing safer, sustainable products. Prevent Harm is our action partner.