Elevated arsenic levels detected in more than a tenth of wells sampled so far

BAR HARBOR — Bar Harbor health officer Mike Gurtler is spearheading a new effort to test all the town’s residential wells for arsenic. Free home-test kits will be available at the Municipal Building.

“Arsenic occurs in many Maine wells,” Gurtler says. “It’s an under-reported threat that can cause cancer, heart disease, immune disorders and developmental delays in children.”

He is working with the MDI Biological Laboratory’s “All About Arsenic” program, a monitoring and education initiative that’s underway in Maine and New Hampshire.

Eighty-five Bar Harbor wells were tested in a similar effort in 2021. Six percent of the samples exceeded the EPA’s 10 parts per billion (ppb) arsenic standard for public water supplies; 13 pecent exceeded the more stringent 5 ppb allowed in some other states. Levels ranged from 6.2 ppb to 188.8 ppb

The goal this fall is to collect 100 new samples in Bar Harbor. Teachers and students at Conners Emerson School are helping to collect samples and analyze the data, and improving their “data literacy”. Partners also include the College of the Atlantic and the Portland-based Defend our Health program.

Kits can be picked up at the Bar Harbor planning office (93 Cottage Street) through Nov. 16. On Election Day, Nov. 8, students from Conners Emerson and COA will provide information and kits at the Municipal Building.

Residents unable to pick up a kit themselves can contact Dr. Sarah Hall at COA (shall@coa.edu) to arrange for home delivery and return once well water is sampled.

All kits must be returned to the planning office within 48 hours of sampling, with Nov. 18 the final day for returns. For more information about the initiative contact Mike Gurtler (mgurtler@barharbormaine.gov)

“All About Arsenic” is funded by a Health Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institute of General Medical Science.