MDI Biological Laboratory

“All About Arsenic” Gains Steam

  • October 21, 2022

Jane Disney, Ph.D., staff, and students from local schools are launching this month the latest canvassing effort to collect water samples from residential wells, to better assess risks of arsenic exposure in Bar Harbor.

It’s part of the ongoing All About Arsenic citizen-science project Disney leads at MDIBL, funded by an NIH Science Education Partnership Award. The program aims to increase understanding of arsenic’s presence and effects in Maine and New Hampshire, while helping elementary and middle-school students gain data literacy.

In a previous round, students and residents collected some 85 water samples in the Bar Harbor area, finding elevated arsenic levels of the substance in more than 10 percent of the samples. One volunteer in that round, Kat Taylor, found levels above government recommendations in her family’s well water — and she got so interested in the phenomena that she hired on as a part-time assistant to the program at MDIBL.

Last year student participants from the Community School of Mount Desert Island testified to the Legislature about the issue; lawmakers later created a fund of $400,000 to finance remediation for residential wells containing levels of arsenic or other potential contaminants that exceed standards the state sets for public water supplies.

Stay tuned for more, as Disney and her crew collate data collected in towns around the state, from Waterville to Westbrook, to draw a better picture of the problem’s extent in Maine.

You can track the data-gathering effort (and hundreds of other cool citizen-science initiatives from here and abroad) at MDIBL’s Anecdata portal.

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