EPA commissions Drexel to study water quality

A Drexel University research group is set to lead an effort to study the safety of drinking water following a $2 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The research team consists of several members from Drexel University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Penn State University, among others. The timeline for the study is three years and the team will research and experiment all across the country.

The study will contrast water systems by comparing the systems of Philadelphia and Boulder, CO. Philadelphia’s piping infrastructure is very old, and some areas have very low usage. This is in comparison to Boulder which is a much newer and expanding city. These two systems will help determine the effect system age has on contamination.

The product of this research will be a website or internet tool which will allow the managers of various plumbing systems to determine what safety procedures are needed. Additionally, this research will help to identify what areas are at risk of waterborne bacteria.

The end goal is to create a risk assessment tool so that the safety of drinking water and building pipes can be regulated.

“The research announced today will guide decision makers as they design, renovate or manage plumbing systems to provide safe and clean drinking water,” Thomas Burke, EPA science advisor, said in a statement to DrexelNow.

There have been some studies to determine the number of cases of waterborne illnesses each year, and some surveys conclude that there are incidence rates ranging from 12 million to nearly 20 million cases per year. Research into the factors of geography and demographics has not been done, nor has cause of illness been reliably tracked. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the contamination of drinking water happens most often after the water leaves the government regulated water main and enters the plumbing of the buildings or exits the taps.

Some dangerous waterborne illnesses are caused by bacteria, such as Legionella, H. pylori and Mycobacterium, which can multiply in the water in the pipes on the premises of the building. Infections by all three of these bacteria can be fatal, and preventing outbreaks of disease caused by these bacteria remains a high priority.

Even though a large portion of this research is based on identifying risk of waterborne illnesses and levels of dangerous bacteria in plumbing systems, the levels of lead and other toxic metals is also a concern. According to the EPA, lead levels in drinking water are highly dependent on the piping it travels through. This research may also help determine what piping systems and neighborhoods are susceptible to high levels of lead in drinking water.