Virginia Tech receives $600,000 in federal funding to solve more Lead in water issues

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Following the success of Virginia Tech to detect and solve the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the university will continue to help communities around the country, including in Virginia.

U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced on Thursday, Virginia Tech will receive $600,000 in federal funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Lead Hazard and Healthy Homes Technical Studies grant awards.

The Senators said in a statement Thursday, "Virginia Tech and its researchers are national experts in studying the dire health risks of Lead in drinking water, and we hope this funding will help them continue those important efforts. This grant will give them the tools to evaluate prevention methods and educate vulnerable communities in Virginia and across the country about how to protect themselves. After the incredible work Virginia Tech researchers did to uncover the Flint water crisis, we are certain this funding is in the right hands.”

The funding will go towards testing and approving water filters for communities suffering with Lead in water.

Marc Edwards, who leads the Flint Water Study team at Virginia Tech, said Kelsey Pieper, a team member, is one of the leaders on the project.

Pieper is a USA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Fellow at Virginia Tech.

She said the concern for areas, other than Flint, is high levels of Iron usually coincide with Lead, and Iron can prevent filters from working properly.

"There's often high levels of Iron and other constituents in water, and that can potentially prematurely clog the filters," Pieper said. "It can decrease their life expectancy or how much they're rated for because the Iron and such are going to clog the filters and clog the pores. We're looking at how these filters function when they're exposed to these more corrosive water conditions with higher Iron concentrations."

Pieper said the project will focus on three areas, St. Joseph, Louisiana, New Orleans, and Macon County, NC.

In Macon County, the concern is private wells. Testing found some wells in the county have water Lead levels similar to Flint. Those are not regulated, it's up to the homeowner to test.

But those levels are also being seen in Virginia. Testing found in private wells, around one in five wells has elevated levels of Lead above the EPA action level.

Pieper said people with wells who are concerned, can contact the Virginia Household Water Quality Program at Virginia Tech. It's a resource available to private well owners across Virginia. It provides low cost water quality testing and advice on what filters to use.

To contact the Virginia Household Water Quality Program, click here.

In Louisiana, St. Joseph declared a state of emergency in December, 2016 due to Lead in the water. The water was turned off and replacements were made, so high Lead and Iron is a concern.

In New Orleans, low levels of Lead were found. It's below the action level, but flushing protocols which were put in place aren't getting rid of the Lead, so filters would be needed.

That's what the $600,000 will be used for is finding the right filter for communities.

Pieper said, "While the first phase of our research is evaluating these filters at Virginia Tech, the next two pieces are really about getting into the community, testing the filters in the field, but then the big piece of it is working with the community, working with our community partners, to make sure these options are viable, that people like these filters, that they're good options, and really engaging with the residents to validate these methods."

The team is focusing on filters, like Brita, that are sold in stores. The EPA did resting on these filters in Flint, MI and found them to be successful.

The goal is to find low cost filters that can be found in local grocery stores, if needed. The cheapest working filter Pieper said she's found is $15.00.

The concern is the types of filters, and people need to read the boxes. Some filters only remove things like Chlorine, but don't remove Lead. Other filters are regulated for heavy metals, like Lead.

Pieper said this project will be a collaboration between Virginia Tech and entities in all these communities. Louisiana State University's School of Public Health's Dr. Adrienne Katner, who works in public health and communication is a part of the project. The Macon County Health Department, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network in St. Joseph, and Southern United Neighborhoods in New Orleans are all in the collaboration too.

Follow @EamonOMearaTV on Twitter and like Eamon O'Meara WDBJ7 on Facebook

Follow @WDBJ7 on Twitter and like WDBJ7 on Facebook