EPA awards grants to research lead in drinking water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has 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.

“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.”

Virginia Tech will use its 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.

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“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 Dr. Marc Edwards, principal investigator on the project. “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 Jonathan Cuppett, research manager for the Water Research Foundation. “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.”

For more information about these grants: https://www.epa.gov/research-grants/water-research-grants

Pruitt has made it a priority to reduce lead exposure and address associated health impacts, while also protecting America’s waters. On Feb. 16, Pruitt hosted key members of the Trump Administration to collaborate on the development and implementation of a new Federal Strategy to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures and Eliminate Associated Health Impacts. The President’s Task Force aims to make addressing childhood lead exposure a priority for their respective departments and agencies. Lead exposure, particularly at higher doses, continues to pose a significant health and safety threat to children, preventing them from reaching the fullest potential of their health, their intellect, and their future. No blood lead level is safe for children. EPA and our federal partners are committed to a collaborative approach to address this threat and improve health outcomes for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens – our children.

Unlike most drinking water contaminants, lead is rarely found in the source water used for public water supplies. Instead, lead can enter tap water when plumbing materials containing lead corrode. Exposure to lead causes health problems ranging from stomach problems to brain damage and studies consistently demonstrate the harmful effects of lead exposure on children, including cognitive function and decreased academic performance.

Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from drinking water is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.

More information about lead: www.epa.gov/lead.

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