MDI Biological Laboratory

SEPA / All About Arsenic Project

The MDI Biological Laboratory is the recipient of a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The project focuses on STEM education that engages students as citizen scientists and provides them with tools, skills and resources to make sense of data so that their results can inform actions at the local, regional, and even national level.

Arsenic, a naturally occurring contaminant in some groundwater, is a major contaminant of concern for human health worldwide. Long-term exposure to arsenic can lead to a host of health issues, including heart disease; cancer of the bladder, lung, liver, prostate, and skin; diabetes, and more. It is also one of the most pressing public health issues in Maine and New Hampshire.

Despite the public health threat, the situation provides an opportunity for students to engage in a real-world issue as citizen scientists and to translate data into action though the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) project: “Data to Action: A secondary school-based citizen science project to address arsenic contamination of well water”

Middle and high school teachers receive training in managing, interpreting, and communicating environmental health data in the context of a citizen science project. Project coordinators and scientist-partners support teachers and students as they implement well water monitoring projects in the classroom, analyze data, effectively communicate their data, and work to reduce arsenic exposure in their communities. The relationship between students, teachers, and scientist-partners creates a self-sustaining network that will provide continued mentoring and data literacy support for science teachers and students into the future.

With over 35 schools and institutions participating, thousands of new well water samples have been collected to date throughout Maine and New Hampshire.


A collaborative public health project, the All About Arsenic project was initiated in 2015 by researchers at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) and Dartmouth College’s Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program.

By partnering teachers and researchers throughout Maine and New Hampshire, the overall project aims are: to expand private well water testing for arsenic and other elements and to build data literacy among students and the wider public.

The private well water data collected by students through a citizen science effort will inform the Maine Center for Disease Control and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, two government agencies working to improve well water testing rates and public health.

2015-2017: EPA Environmental Education Grant: Building School and Community Collaborations to Eliminate Arsenic from Drinking Water in Maine and New Hampshire: A Model for the US

Goal: Create and pilot a national model of environmental education that facilities schools and community organizations working together to address the public health risks of exposure to toxic contaminants in drinking water.

2018-2022: NIH Science Education Partnership Award: Data to Action: A Secondary School-Based Citizen Science Project to Address Arsenic Contamination of Well Water

Goal: Provide teachers and students with the tools, skills and support to make sense of the water quality data and then use the scientific process and data analysis to take action.

New and upcoming projects

Arsenic in All Seasons aims to assess how seasonality affects groundwater quality. By conducting monthly and opportunistic precipitation event sampling of 25 bedrock wells through the year, we can view annual variability in elemental abundances such as arsenic and uranium, two known contaminants in the New England Region. (Funding: NIH-SEPA Supplement, 2019-2022)

Orchards, Gardens, and Fields focuses on soil testing in regions where arsenical pesticides were likely to have been applied to agricultural fields during the last century. By coupling chemical testing of shallow well water, soil, and agricultural products grown in the soil, we will evaluate the long-lasting consequences of past pesticide use. This project is beginning in New England with plans to expand to the southeastern United States. (Funding: Pending)