Tag Archives: water quality

Water testing program helps get the lead out

Emily Hutchins of Blacksburg, Virginia, fills water collection bottles.

Emily Hutchins of Blacksburg, Virginia, fills water collection bottles.

Virginia Tech’s recent discovery of abnormally high amounts of lead in the Flint, Michigan, water system has made safe drinking water a hot topic. But while the water in Flint came from a municipal source, private water systems, such as wells, springs, and cisterns, are not immune to this problem.

Testing conducted though Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Virginia Household Water Quality Program has found high levels of lead in private systems around the state.

Kelsey Pieper, a researcher on the Flint team who received her doctorate from Virginia Tech, was the primary author on the study that found 1 in 5 private systems had lead concentrations above the Environmental Protection Agency standard for municipal systems. About 45 percent of the samples contained coliform bacteria and 10 percent contained E. coli.

The study determined that, like Flint, much of the lead in private systems is due to corrosive water.

“Homeowners may associate lead in water problems with older homes, but we are finding high lead in water from newer homes as well,” said Pieper. “Until 2014, lead-free plumbing could contain up to 8 percent lead. These components are still present in many homes, and exposure to corrosive water may cause the lead to leach.”

Nearly one-quarter of Virginia’s population — 1.7 million people — rely on private water systems for their source of household water.

“The safest thing you can do is have your water tested,” said Erin Ling, a senior Extension associate in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering and the Virginia Household Water Quality Program coordinator. Ling recommends that private systems be routinely tested every one to three years.

Jeremy and Emily Hutchins of Blacksburg are among thousands of families across Virginia that have had their water tested through the Virginia Household Water Quality Program. Emily Hutchins had heard about the program from a friend at work. She wanted to have her water tested and was also concerned about the water at her parent’s home in Craig County. She convinced her parents to have their water tested at the same time.

“It’s good to know what is in your water,” said Jeremy Hutchins. “Look at how much stuff can end up in your water. Why wouldn’t you want to know?”

“Our program works through local Extension offices to offer low-cost, confidential water testing for Virginia’s well and spring users. Since these are private systems, the owner is completely responsible for maintaining the quality of their drinking water,” said Ling. “In addition to learning about their water quality, we work to empower well owners with information about system care and maintenance and to address any problems.”

Clinics begin with a kickoff meeting that introduces the program and gives instructions for collecting the samples. After participants collect their water samples, the samples are taken to two labs at Virginia Tech to be analyzed. An interpretation meeting is held to review each participant’s results and discuss options for addressing maintenance or water quality problems. More than 50 clinics will be held across the commonwealth in 2016.

“As more testing is done, we will continue to develop a better understanding of the occurrence, sources, and remediation approaches of lead in private systems,” said Ling.

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Protecting water

In the coming years, it may not be fuel or even food that is the world’s most precious and valued resource — it may be water.

Researchers and students from Virginia Tech are working on new ways to protect our valuable water resources.

Researchers and students from Virginia Tech are working on new ways to protect our valuable water resources.

The number of people who live in areas with water scarcity is expected to increase from 1.6 billion today to 2.8 billion by 2025, according to the World Bank. In order to meet the water shortage challenges and mitigate the anticipated impacts of climate change, Virginia Tech has hired a “cluster” of new faculty that can tackle water issues head-on.

The faculty members from a number of different colleges will complement Virginia Tech’s existing water science expertise by exploring interdisciplinary subjects as diverse and complex as water itself, including the effects of climate change on agriculture, management of water and natural resources, transport of chemicals to surface water and groundwater, and development of decision-support tools to mitigate the negative impacts of human activities.

Seven faculty members have been hired in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Natural Resources and Environment as part of the cluster.

“These new positions will effectively integrate our research, education, and Extension programs and allow us to conduct interdisciplinary programs by bridging water science and engineering with social sciences to more effectively address global water issues,” said Saied Mostaghimi, associate dean of research and graduate studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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