VT Flint Water Team testing well water from Texas and Florida hurricane victims

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Following hurricanes and massive flooding in Texas and Florida, the same researchers at Virginia Tech who solved the Flint, Michigan crisis stepped in.

They're working to help private well owners, as wells aren't regulated by cities or towns.

The problems facing people with wells following hurricanes are there could be damage to the system, or more likely, the flood waters, filled with bacteria, spilled into the wells. If anyone were to drink that water, it could be very dangerous.

William Rhoads, a member of the team and a Post Doc Researcher at Virginia Tech explained, "It can cause gastrointestinal upset, which is things like fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, high fever. So it can make you very sick for an extended amount of time."

So the team of nearly ten researchers is working with Texas A&M AgrilLife Extension and University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Extension to test well water from flood victims.

Team member and First Year PhD student Kris Mapili explained, "We add reagents first and then we let it dissolve and then we pour it into the packet, we seal it, and then we incubate it at 37 degrees Celsius for a day, and then after that some of the little wells will turn color, and if they turn color, it's positive for the bad bacteria."

If the water were to have dangerous E. coli bacteria, it would glow under a black light.

The test is called Colilert, a commercially available test made by IDEXX. It identifies, "If there is total coliform and E. coli, bacteria that indicated there has been fecal contamination of the well water," Rhoads said.

Luckily for the people in Texas and Florida, this team has experience with water crises, and says they're treating this with the same urgency as Flint.

"While Flint was a different situation because it's a public utility and there were a lot of other factors going on, we take it very seriously and we want to make sure that we get these residents the same quality and level on answers as we got for those in Flint," Rhoads said.

Like Flint, they're not just trying to identify the problem, they're looking for the solution.

"What we're hoping is the result of this study will help us to develop disinfection procedures and instructions to help well owners restore their water back after severe flooding," Mapili said.

As of Thursday the team had tested 670 samples and plans to test about 200 more. But that solution will be key, as they said around 900,000 people are facing this problem.

A $200,000 National Science Foundation RAPID grant paid for the water sampling kits in Texas and Florida.

It will also provide resources for extension offices in Texas and Florida to host workshops on how homeowners should properly disinfect their wells.

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