August 10 – 16, 2018 Vol. 20, No. 10


Summertime in the Belgrades

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Is Your Well "Well"?

by Marcel Schnee

The Belgrade Lakes Association is known for its strong devotion to protecting and improving the quality of the water in its lakes; the water that we boat on, swim in, and fish from. However, there is other water around here that also deserves some attention. I refer to the water that we drink, cook with, and bathe in from our local wells.

A bit of research into the state of our local well waters soon revealed that we should be asking ourselves this question, "Is my well well?" It turns out that the answer may be "No." It also turns out that it would be wise for many of us to answer the question, "What exactly is in my well water, anyway?"

The answer just might be ARSENIC.

According to an April 11, 2017, article in the Portland Press Herald entitled, "Our View: Maine must make more noise on risks of well-water poisoning," "About 1 in 8 Maine wells has a level of arsenic higher than the federal standard, and in some regions — Down East, in the Augusta area and along the southern coast — the rate is far higher. In Kennebec County, for instance, 29 percent of wells exceeded the federal standard." Unfortunately, Maine's Environmental Public Health Tracking Network found that only 57% of the wells in Kennebec County have even been tested for arsenic.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical found in soil and rocks. Some rocks have higher levels of arsenic than others, and this is why about 1 in 10 drilled wells have high levels in their water. (Dug wells can have higher levels, too).

Perhaps you are thinking, "Arsenic? Who really cares? It is just another substance found in nature, so how bad can it be?"

Well, people who drink water with too much arsenic for many years are more susceptible to skin, bladder, and lung cancer. Arsenic can also cause low birthweight and affect brain development in babies and young children. Other problems can also include stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, numbness, or tingling in the hands and feet and changes in the skin.

There are dozens of pages of interesting research and well water data at wellwater.maine.gov. You can also call 866-292-3474 toll-free in Maine or 207-287-4311 to talk to an expert about possible health concerns.

According to Maine's State Toxicologist, Andrew Smith, whose study appears in the February 15 edition of Science of the Total Environment, showering and taking a bath in well water high in arsenic are not significant arsenic exposure sources for children and adults. This is good news for the tens of thousands of Maine residents who likely have too much arsenic in their well water.

He also found that switching to bottled water or installing an arsenic treatment system at the kitchen sink effectively reduce arsenic exposure when arsenic levels are below 40 micrograms per liter (mcg/L). (Less than 2% of Maine wells have levels above 40 mcg/L).

This is good news because this is usually less expensive to fix than installing a system that treats all of the water used in the house. It should be noted that for homes with arsenic levels above 40 mcg/L, bottled or treated water should not only be used for drinking, but for all beverage and food preparation as well. This includes making drinks such as coffee, tea, juice, and infant formula.

There are two kinds of water filtration systems to consider for your home if needed. A point-of-use system fits under the sink and is a good choice if you are primarily worried about drinking and cooking. A point-of-entry system treats all the water in the house. You might want this kind of system if there are small children in your home. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention gives specific advice for action at wellwater.maine.gov.

How do you go about testing your well water? Call a certified lab and ask for an arsenic test kit. You can find a lab at wellwater.maine.gov or call the Maine Laboratory Certification Officer at 207-287-1929. You can also request a kit to test for radon, uranium, fluoride, bacteria, nitrites and nitrates as well. A test kit will arrive in the mail with empty bottles, directions and forms to fill out. Follow the directions and mail the bottles back to the lab with the forms. You can also watch a video on how to do a water test on YouTube. Your test results will be mailed to you.

There are two Maine Water Testing Labs in this area:

  1. State of Maine Public Health & Environmental Testing Lab, Augusta, 866-522-4385.
  2. Northeast Labs Inc., Winslow, 207-873-7711.

A complete list for the entire state can be found at wellwater.maine.gov.