MDI Biological Laboratory

Not Just a Drop in the Bucket

  • October 8, 2021

Students in Lynn Hanna’s class at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor are working with Bar Harbor’s local health officer Mike Gurtler to test all residential wells in Bar Harbor for arsenic.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in many residential wells in Maine. At elevated levels, it poses a potentially significant health threat, causing cancer, heart disease, immune dysfunction, and developmental delays in children. MDI Biological Laboratory’s Jane Disney, Ph.D. has been engaging researchers, teachers, and students in Maine and New Hampshire in well water monitoring efforts for the past five years as part of a project called All About Arsenic.

students in a classroom

Students at MDI High School prepare test kits

The overall project aims to expand private well water testing for arsenic and other elements, and to build data literacy among students and the wider public. Currently funded through a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, students in 27 schools test have tested 2,500 wells and communicated the results in their communities. According to student analyses, 10% of the wells tested in Bar Harbor to date exceed the EPA acceptable arsenic level of 10 parts per billion. The CDC recommends testing your well every 3-5 years for arsenic.

Conners Emerson Elementary School, not far from the MDI Biological Laboratory campus, has been involved in the program since 2019; they’ve collected 81 well water samples so far and hope to collect another 100 well water samples as part of this collaborative effort.

Portland, Maine, non-profit Defend Our Health, whose mission is to protect public health has helped 2,500 Mainers gain access to well water testing, is supplying the test kits to expand this project locally. College of the Atlantic students and faculty are scheduling kit deliveries upon request (email Information about legislative efforts to address arsenic issues in Maine will be available locally on Election Day.