Va. Tech. expert, team win $2M for lead water research

The Detroit News

Federal officials are giving nearly $2 million for research to a team led by the Virginia Tech researcher who uncovered elevated lead levels in Flint’s drinking water to research preventing such problems nationwide.

Staffers are slated to use the money to create a consumer-based framework to detect and control lead in drinking water, the agency said in a statement. The “community science project” aims to raise awareness while helping “the most vulnerable communities to actively participate in identifying risks and evaluating opportunities to mitigate those risks.”

“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 a statement by Marc Edwards, the principal investigator on the project at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where he has long worked.

“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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce the funding Wednesday.

The grant dovetails with federal efforts to tackle lead exposure and comes weeks after Edwards testified in the district court case involving Nick Lyon, the state Health and Human Services director, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter linked to the Flint water crisis.

The Flint water crisis began when the city’s water supply was contaminated with lead in April 2014, when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the source of the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. When the move was made, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality did not require adequate corrosion-control chemicals to treat the water, causing lead to leach from joints, pipes and fixtures

Prosecutors have said the switch helped create the conditions for a Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 and sickened 79 others.

Edwards, an environmental engineer, tested the water of Flint resident Lee-Anne Walter in 2015 and found elevated lead levels he had not seen in 25 years. He assembled a team of Virginia Tech researchers, took them to Flint to test the water, launched a website and paid $150,000 to complete the work.

He also found documents showing that state leaders knew in the summer of 2015 that there was lead contamination in Flint’s water. Edwards testified before Congress in March 2016 about the crisis.

The EPA grant follows the launch of a task force this year to address childhood lead exposure.

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

For information about the awards: