BAR HARBOR, MAINE — The national outrage over the public health threat from lead contamination of the public water supply in Flint, Michigan, has raised public awareness of the potential dangers of drinking water across the country and in Maine, where many residential wells are contaminated with arsenic and other toxic substances.
Bruce A. Stanton, Ph.D., the director of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program and a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, will deliver a presentation entitled “What’s in Your Drinking Water?” at an MDI Science Café to be held Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, at 5 p.m. in the Kinne Library at the MDI Biological Laboratory.
In particular, Stanton will talk about arsenic, which has a greater impact on human health than any other environmental contaminant, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Water from up to 10 percent of residential wells in Maine has high arsenic levels, with that number reaching 60 percent in some areas in the coastal “arsenic belt.” While regulations require that public water supplies be treated to reduce arsenic, private wells are not regulated.
Even low levels of arsenic in drinking water have been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and reproductive and developmental problems.
Stanton, who is a trustee of the MDI Biological Laboratory, was the organizer of a summit on the environmental and health consequences of arsenic held at the laboratory in 2014. The summit convened scientists; government officials; educators; and representatives of industry, agriculture and the nonprofit sector to identify and commit to an action plan to address the health challenges posed by arsenic.
Since the summit, which was also sponsored by the Dartmouth superfund research program and others, Stanton has been working to implement the summit’s goals, which include reducing exposure to arsenic, building awareness and increasing education about the arsenic’s health impacts, and developing a committed network of stakeholders committed to achieving these goals.
One of the outcomes is “All About Arsenic,” a collaborative effort in Maine and New Hampshire designed to serve as a national model. The program, led by Jane Disney, Ph.D., senior staff scientist and director of education at the MDI Biological Laboratory, tests well water in cooperation with schools and other community partners and educates residents about arsenic. The tests are conducted by the Dartmouth superfund program.
Stanton’s scientific interests include how environmental toxins, including arsenic, affect disease progression and outcome. The objective of one area of his research is to elucidate how arsenic increases the incidence of atherosclerotic disease and diabetes, as well as several types of drug-resistant cancers.
MDI Science Cafés are offered through the MDI Biological Laboratory in fulfillment of its mission to promote scientific literacy and increase public engagement with science. The popular events offer a chance to hear directly from scientists about their latest research. Short presentations delivered in everyday language are followed by lively, informal discussion.
The cafés are sponsored by Bar Harbor Bank & Trust and Cross Insurance. The science cafés will alternate with Art Meets Science Cafés at the MDI Biological Laboratory every Monday evening from June 20 to Sept. 19, except for Labor Day. The cafés will take place at 5 p.m. at the laboratory’s Kinne Library.
The 2016 Art Meets Science exhibit will be on view prior to the MDI Science Cafés and Art Meets Science Cafés starting at 4:15 p.m. For more information on these events, please visit mdibl.org/events.