Next week, Virginia Tech researchers return to Flint to test the city’s drinking water for a third time.
A year ago, their tests showed high levels of lead in the city’s tap water.
A second round of testing showed improvement, but not enough.
“We were initially concerned back in March when we sampled the system was not recovering as fast as we hoped,” says Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards. “And then we realized it’s because of the low water use.”
Concerned about lead and other contaminants in their tap water and the high price the city was charging for water, many Flint residents have greatly reduced their water use during the past few years. That has meant water has sat longer than normal in pipes, allowing pipes to corrode and leach metals, and bacteria to grow.
In May, government officials urged Flint water customers to run their faucets for five minutes a day for two weeks. The state agreed to pick up the tab.
The hope was more water moving through the system would flush out lead and other contaminants, while allowing anti-corrosion chemicals to reduce further damage to pipes.
“This flushing program in the homes where is was implemented has really dramatically improved the water quality in terms of lead, discoloration water and probably taste as well,” says Edwards.
Virginia Tech researchers will spend the next few weeks trying to assess just how much improvement the system has seen. Edwards expects the test results will be ready by August.
Researchers will collect water samples from dozens of homes tested before. That will make it easier to compare results.