Article by Robby Korth
Flint, Michigan, is hardly the only place Virginia Tech researchers are looking for contaminants in drinking water.
In Virginia, one team that’s part of Virginia Tech’s Cooperative Extension has tested private well samples serving 16,000 people across the state since 2008.
Researchers discovered health-based contaminants above federal standards for municipal systems in almost 60 percent of the well samples — including Flint-like elevated lead levels in almost 20 percent of homes and coliform bacteria in about 40 percent of homes.
“You have failing systems all around you,” said Leigh Anne Krometis, a biological systems engineering assistant professor who has analyzed samples with the program.
The Virginia Household Water Quality Program — a service of Tech’s cooperative extension program — is working to prevent those failing well systems from harming people across the commonwealth.
“These guys are doing a great service,” said Marc Edwards, the leader of Tech’s Flint Water Study group and, in part because of the Flint situation, now a nationally renowned expert on water safety.
According to a 2010 U.S. Geological Survey report, about 1.7 million Virginians rely on private wells — systems that draw water from the ground and aren’t connected to municipal water infrastructure. And because they’re privately owned, there is little to no regulation and they are often misunderstood, said Erin Ling, senior extension associate and program coordinator.
Many Virginia wells supply rural homes, but there are also many wells that are used in subdivisions on the outskirts of towns and cities, Ling said.
The water quality program offers to test people’s private wells for a reduced rate of $52. Agents and volunteers within the program’s network will then help people navigate the results in an information session, Ling said.
“If we can empower people with accurate information we can help them make informed decisions,” she said.