Tracking Goes Local with Town-level Private Well Water Data

April 23, 2014

The Maine Tracking Network released a suite of new data related to private well water quality and testing this week. The release is a sentinel moment for the network, making town-level summary measures for tens of thousands of well water test results for arsenic, uranium, fluoride, and other analytes available to anyone for the first time in Maine.

More than half of Maine homes rely on private wells for their drinking water. Many of these wells have too much arsenic, uranium, or other chemicals that can only be detected through laboratory testing. Some of these can cause serious health effects such as cancer, low birthweight, kidney problems, and damage to teeth and bones. 

"The goal of making all of these data available is to foster a better understanding of private well water quality in the state, identify areas at high-risk for contamination, and encourage regular well water testing among all private well users," said state toxicologist and Maine Tracking Network director Andrew Smith.

To this end, the data portal allows users to interact with a dataset of water test results analyzed at the State of Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory to create highly detailed maps, tables, and charts for six different analytes. Reports can include one or more measures, such as percent of wells in a geographic area that exceed Maine's health-based maximum exposure guidelines and the maximum concentration levels in a geographic area.

Beyond measures for water quality, the network is also home to survey data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. These data provide estimates for homes with private wells and how many of these wells have had any water test or a test for arsenic.

The new private well water content brings an additional first-time feature to the network's data portal: Users can create reports summarizing water quality and testing rates for Healthy Maine Partnership service areas. Healthy Maine Partnerships (HMPs) are 27 community-based health promotion organizations that make up Maine's local public health infrastructure.

HMP-level information will play an important role for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention's three new HMP community partners who recently won contracts to carry-out well water safety initiatives. These partners will use the data to identify high-risk communities where they will make a concerted effort to increase rates of testing through community events, local media, and free water testing campaigns. Partners will service communities in Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, and Washington Counties over the next couple of years.

Tracking the effect of these local efforts, as well as ongoing statewide efforts, is a major benefit of having a public, online repository of private well water data.

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