The Environmental Protection Agency is providing the research team that discovered the Flint water crisis with a hefty $2 million grant to discover ways to “eradicate” lead in water.
Virginia Tech will use the $1.9 million grant to detect lead exposure in drinking water. EPA Chief Scott Pruitt has made addressing lead detection in the country’s water supply a crucial part of the agency’s mission.
“Lead exposure is one of the greatest environmental threats we face as a country, and it’s especially dangerous for our children,” EPA Chief Scott Pruitt said in a press statement Wednesday. “This research will move us one step closer to advancing our work to eradicate lead in drinking water.”
The lead investigator on the project, Marc Edwards, a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech was critical of the Obama-era EPA’s handling of the Flint situation. He claimed in 2016 that Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the EPA “turned a blind eye” to Flint’s tainted water and corroded water pipes.
“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,” Edwards said in a statement about the grant.
Michigan officials and local Flint residents have been unable to get the small, mostly black town’s water system up and running after lead contaminated its water supply. High levels of lead are believed to be a significant contributing factor to outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint.
Officials switched the small eastern Michigan city’s water supply from Lake Huron in 2014 to the Flint River in a bid to save money. But the state applied the wrong regulations and standards for drinking water, which ultimately resulted in corroded pipes. The lead leaching did not come to the fore until research from Edwards and others showed significant levels of contamination were present in the water supply. A federal state of emergency was declared in January of 2016.
EPA was criticized for not doing more to prevent the problem. The EPA only acts to enforce clean drinking water regulations when public outrage reaches a deafening pitch, implying negligence on the part of agency officials, one report published in March 2017 claims.
Nearly 2,000 citizens of Flint sued the agency for overlooking the problem until it was too late. The EPA failed to take the proper steps to ensure state and local authorities were addressing the crisis, Flint citizens’ lawsuit claims. The defendants are seeking a civil action lawsuit for $722 million in damages.
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