Has the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan got you wondering about your own water? A statewide program by the Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech offers help with water testing. Working with the Virginia Tech lab that found the problem in Flint, they determined nearly twenty percent of Virginia homes served by well water may be contaminated by lead . But it’s the responsibility of homeowners, to take advantage of this testing program. And too many still don’t.
Despite all the attention to water contamination in light of what happened in Flint, Michigan, the Virginia Household Water Quality Program has so far seen only a small uptick in inquiries about its free, statewide water testing clinics.
Erin Ling, speaking at a well water-testing clinic says, “We’re also just briefly going to talking about the E-P-A national drinking water standards. These do apply to public systems.”
Each year, the clinics visit around half of Virginia’s counties. People who show up get a water test kit at a reduced price, a detailed lesson in how to test their water, and a results session to go over what they found in their own wells or springs. Their results also help fill in the broader picture of what water looks likes in Virginia.
“And we actually, since 2011, have been finding a significant amount of lead in homes that are supplied by private water supplies like wells and springs.”
Erin Ling Coordinates the Virginia Tech cooperative extension’s Virginia Household Water Quality Program
“And we were able to actually do the testing through Marc Edwards’ lab and work with his group on campus. We’re very lucky to have that partnership.”
Kelsea Pieper was a grad student at the time working with Edwards testing Virginia well water.
“First study in Virginia was that about 1 in 5 homeowners relying on a private system had high lead in water above the E-P-A action levels for municipal systems. That was one of our most important findings because it identified that corrosion is a concern for private wells.
And as most everyone in this country now knows. When corrosive water, also known as acidic or aggressive water comes in contact with lead, it can leach it. But it’s not because the water itself is contaminated. The lab found the lead was leaching from so called ‘lead free’ brass fittings or fixtures in the wells or plumbing.
Pieper says, “Up until 2014, our brass fittings could contain up to 8% lead and brass fittings can be found throughout your home, although you may have plastic plumbing, you can have a brass tank key, a turn-off valve, a check valve, things like that.”
Finding out if lead is present in your well water is the first step to fixing it. Again, Virginia Household Water Quality coordinator Erin Ling
Ling says, “The fix is, if the led seems to be just in the first draw, the water that’s been sitting in the pipes, right near your faucet, the fix may be to run the water for a while. The other option is the address the corrosivity of the water using a treatment device such as an acid neutralizing filter.”
All testing and any fixes for private wells is solely the responsibility of the well owner. Ling says that’s why the household water quality program was created. Test kits for 14 possible contaminants cost just fifty dollars if you participate in the clinics. As Professor Marc Edwards pointed out recently in a nod and to the founder of the land grant state university, the mission is service to the community as in Virginia Tech’s motto Ut Prosum; that I may serve
“Extension really embodies that idea of Ut Prosum, that service back to the state, back to the stakeholders in the commonwealth. So I think that’s really important, that we can provide the service, just like Marc Edwards group has done, in a different way, but provide that outreach and really taken the power of knowledge of the university and brought it to help people.”
Still only around 50 people in each county show up at the water clinics when they come to town. Ling says, they could be serving many more.