After Flint crisis, EPA awards $4 million in grants to research lead in drinking water

Flint water
Flint water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced nearly $4 million in funding to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Va., and the Water Research Foundation in Denver, Colo., to research strategies to detect and eliminate lead exposure in drinking water.

According to the EPA, Virginia Tech will use their grant of $1,981,500 to create a consumer-based framework to detect and control lead in drinking water. Researchers will work collaboratively with the public, encouraging citizen scientists to participate in the research. By involving consumers directly in research, this community science project is designed to increase public awareness of lead in water and plumbing at a national scale. This research expands the capacity of the most vulnerable communities to actively participate in identifying risks and evaluating opportunities to mitigate those risks.

“Lead exposure is one of the greatest environmental threats we face as a country, and it’s especially dangerous for our children,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This research will move us one step closer to advancing our work to eradicate lead in drinking water.”

Principal Investigator on the project Dr. Marc Edwards, who helped lead a team of researchers to test Flint's poisoned drinking water, said his team will reach out to consumers who want to better protect themselves from lead-tainted water. 

“Our team will establish one of the largest citizen science engineering projects in U.S. history to help individuals and communities deal with our shared responsibility for controlling exposure to lead in drinking water through a combination of low-cost sampling, outreach, direct collaboration, and modeling,” said Edwards. “We will tap a growing ‘crowd’ of consumers who want to learn how to better protect themselves from lead, and in the process, also create new knowledge to protect others. Whether from wells or municipalities, we all consume water, and we can collectively work to reduce health risks.”

The Water Research Foundation’s $1,981,500 grant will be used to create a risk-based model to identify opportunities to mitigate lead exposure from drinking water, including at homes and among children and pregnant women. In addition, they will develop a communication framework that focuses on education and outreach for risk factors and mitigation opportunities. The communication framework will be a resource for vulnerable communities and water utilities, as well as the general public and other stakeholders.

“The ultimate objective of this research is to go beyond advancing the science by providing resources that effectively reduce exposure from lead in drinking water,” said Research Manager for The Water Research Foundation Jonathan Cuppett. “The critical components of the project include generating a risk based computational model, identifying lead mitigation opportunities, and developing a communication framework to educate stakeholders on lead exposure.” 

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