September 23, 2019
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‘Is There Arsenic in Your Drinking Water?’ to be subject of next MDI Science Café

Community Author: Stefanie Matteson
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Updated:
Stefanie Matteson | BDN
Stefanie Matteson | BDN

BAR HARBOR — The next MDI Science Cafe will be held 5 p.m. Monday, July 8, at 159 Old Bar Harbor Road, on the topic “Is There Arsenic in Your Drinking Water?”.

The presence of arsenic in well water is a significant public health threat in Maine. Though Mainers rely heavily on private wells, few have their water tested for arsenic,  which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated as the environmental contaminant with the biggest impact on human health.

Long-term exposure, even at low levels, can lead to severe health problems, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and reproductive, developmental and cognitive problems, including lower IQs in children. Arsenic is a particular problem in the coastal “arsenic belt,” where up to 60 percent of wells have levels that exceed EPA limits.

The café presentation will be delivered by Jane E. Disney, Ph.D., senior staff scientist and director of education at the MDI Biological Laboratory, and Bruce Stanton, Ph.D.,  Andrew C. Vail professor of microbiology and immunology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, former director and current project leader of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program and a visiting scientist at the MDI Biological Laboratory.

Disney and Stanton will talk about the public health threat posed by arsenic and about a federally funded program — the SEPA program — to address the threat in Maine and New Hampshire. The SEPA (Science Education Partnership Award) program is a five-year, $1.2 million program titled “Data to Action: A Secondary School-Based Citizen Science Project to Address Arsenic Contamination of Well Water.”

They will also talk about steps homeowners can take to mitigate exposure.

“The SEPA program takes advantage of the fact that students are more likely to expand their scientific inquiry skills and retain what they learn when the data have relevance,” Disney said. “The data they collect will be meaningful for them and their families, as well as for the larger community. Also, the use of scientist-mentors from the state’s colleges and universities takes advantage of Maine’s abundance of scientific talent.”

Disney is director and principal investigator and Stanton is associate director of the program, which is funded through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an institute of the National Institutes of Health. The program is a collaboration between the MDI Biological Laboratory and Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

The SEPA program is an outgrowth of an earlier EPA-sponsored program, “All About Arsenic,” which was also a collaboration between the laboratory and Dartmouth. While that program succeeded in educating the community about the arsenic threat, it also identified a need for improved data literacy. The aim of the new program is to help teachers and students make sense of the data they collect and to communicate their findings to the public.

The testing results will be provided to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to help the agency monitor the extent of arsenic exposure in the state and to implement mitigation strategies.

MDI Science Cafés are offered in fulfillment of the institution’s mission to promote scientific literacy and increase public engagement with science. The popular events offer a chance to hear directly from speakers about trends in science. Short presentations delivered in everyday language are followed by lively, informal discussion.

For more information, please visit mdibl.org or call 207-288-3147.

About the MDI Biological Laboratory 

We are pioneering new approaches to regenerative medicine focused on developing drugs that slow age-related degenerative diseases and activate our natural ability to heal. Our unique approach has identified potential therapies that could revolutionize the treatment of heart disease, muscular dystrophy and more. Through the Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation, we are preparing students for 21st century careers and equipping entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to turn discoveries into applications that improve human health and well-being. For more information, please visit mdibl.org.