PLEASANT POINT — Imagine if every time you turned on the faucet, what came out was unsafe and undrinkable.
For decades, that’s been a reality for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point.
Up until recently, tribe members have been going to a church in Robbinston to get water from a natural spring.
At some point over the past two months, that dried up.
“Three years ago, maybe more, I noticed the color of our water was tinted. I asked other people if they were experiencing the same thing and yes they were,” said Cyril Francis, the Behavioral Health Manager for Wabanaki Public Health.
The problem has been going on much longer than that.
An article from a local paper that was published in 1982 stated the water already had an unsafe level of trihalomethanes, or THMs.
“With what the water district puts on notices, my understanding is trihalomethanes can lead to serious organ damage and organ failure and cancer,” said Corey Hinton, the tribe’s lawyer.
A CDC spokesperson tells us Lake Boyden, the water source for Pleasant Point, is used for camps and recreational activities.
Its outlet is a stagnant marsh area, which is where the water gets treated.
“As part of evaluating other sources, we have to be working with the water district,” Hinton said. “This is a process that will take a year or two just for this process to unfold, just the evaluation of those sources.”
Even when a course of action is decided, they’ll have to find a way to pay for it.
Research shows THM’s aren’t just harmful if ingested, but can also be absorbed through the skin.
“It’s sad in the year 2020, in the largest most populous nation in the world, we’re still dealing with third world issues on a reservation,” said Sandra Yarmal, data manager for Wabanaki Public Health.
The vice chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point said the water is an important part of their culture, saying it holds life.
“We have a direct relationship to the water. It’s like a kinship,” said Vice Chief Maggie Dana. “We see it as a relative and it’s a part of us. When the water we consume relates to the longevity of a people, it can be beneficial or detrimental.”
Some of those living there say the problems with the water highlight inequity.
A report from the U.S Water Alliance says native tribes are more likely to face this problem than any other group in the country.
“If this was Kennebunkport, Cape Elizabeth, Orono, or Caribou, Maine, it would have been resolved three or four decades ago,” said Newell Lewey, the cultural program manager for Wabanaki Public Health. “We have to internalize that. Is this what we are left with? And is this what we deserve?”
So far Wabanaki Public Health has distributed nearly seven-thousand gallons of water to tribe members.
“Nevermind, the emotional impacts that people deal with when they’re drinking dirty water and when someone turns on a faucet is water that none of us would drink,” said Lisa Sockabasin, director of programs for Wabanaki Public Health.
We reached out to the Passamaquoddy Water district several times and they have not returned the request for comment.