Arsenic contamination of drinking water is a major problem in Maine, particularly for households using private wells because they are unregulated. The issue recently garnered statewide attention with a bill before the legislature that would establish a fund for education and remediation. With sponsorship from the Goldfarb Center, students in Assistant Professor Gail Carlson’s Environment and Human Health course have worked on a civic engagement project to raise public awareness and participate in the policymaking process.

In an effort to educate the public, the class organized an open forum in April at the Belgrade Lakes Resource Center. Many members of the community attended to learn about the dangers of arsenic in well water and the importance of testing their water. Ten free water test kits were raffled off. The forum was covered in a front-page story in the Morning Sentinel.

Later in the month Carlson and her students attended a legislative public hearing on the bill. Students submitted written testimony, and Carlson testified using maps created by her research student showing how many private wells in Maine have unsafe levels of arsenic. Carlson’s testimony was included in Maine Public Radio’s coverage of the public hearing.

“I think it’s a transformative learning experience for students to engage with community members on issues of public significance, and it’s also critical for them to learn about how decision-making is done and how public health determinants, like arsenic in drinking water, are regulated,” said Carlson. “They learn how a bill becomes a law, and also what a big difference they can have as concerned and informed citizens.”

Jeff Meltzer ’15 drafted a letter to the editor on the issue, and it was published in the Morning Sentinel.

More than 300 students are enrolled in civic engagement courses sponsored by the Goldfarb Center each year. For more information contact Associate Director Alice Elliott at aelliott@colby.edu.