2017-08-10 / Editorial

Access to clean drinking water should be universal

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

Access to safe, clean drinking water is a human right, but a shockingly high number of Maine families are exposed to dangerous toxins every time they turn on the tap – including many homes right here in York County.

Statewide, one out of more than eight wells in Maine contains levels of arsenic that exceed the federal safety threshold. The problem is particularly pronounced right here in our own backyard. Nearly 23 percent of home wells in York County are estimated to contain dangerous levels of arsenic, putting us in the top three counties for risk from this toxin, which the Environmental Protection Agency calls one of the most dangerous on Earth.

Arsenic is linked with bladder, skin and lung cancer. It’s particularly dangerous for children, whose brain development can suffer when exposed to arsenic over time. The dangers are real.

While it’s possible to get arsenic out of your water supply and ensure your home is safe for your family, the cost involved can be steep. You can’t just run your water through a Brita filter. That would be my first thought, but that won’t work. The home treatment systems required can cost between $1,200 and $3,000. High levels of contamination require even more costly filtration, with installation running as high as $12,000. That’s out of reach for families who live paycheck to paycheck. Some might forgo the cost if no immediate concern or symptoms are presented.

For several years, Maine State Housing Authority has helped eligible low-income families treat their contaminated well water, but the authority didn’t even have enough funding to assist 200 households. This past legislative session, I supported legislation to allocate an additional $500,000 to the authority so it can help Maine families get well water treatment systems at a reduced cost. That bill was enacted by the House and Senate in July.

The law will also allow for some of the new funding to be used to raise public awareness about the threat of arsenic, the need to test wells and the availability of financial assistance for families who need it. That’s important because despite the shockingly high occurrence of above threshold arsenic levels, fewer than half of well owners have tested their wells.

I should say I was shocked and disappointed when I learned Gov. Paul LePage had vetoed the new water safety law, but then again this is something I just come to expect at this point. He took it a step further and described such a program as a “pet project,” one that didn’t deserve funding. Luckily, both sides disagreed with the governor’s assessment.

I believe that ensuring children don’t suffer from toxins in their own home is not only a goal we should all share, but something that we should expect from our society in the 21st century. No one in Maine should have to drink arsenic-infused water just because they can’t afford the cost of mitigation.

The bill will become law and funding for the authority will be made available on Nov. 1. I urge you to test your well if you haven’t already done so. You can visit http:// www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/eohp/ wells/mewellwater.htm for information about how to test, or visit mainehousing.org for information on financial assistance for arsenic abatement.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the Marketing Coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president/ CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.

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