Virginia Tech researchers release early results of Orleans water sampling

by Brian Molongoski, originally posted on June 11, 2016


Virginia Tech researchers have released early results from its lead testing operation in the town of Orleans, where several residents have experienced water contamination by salt.

Road salt from a nearby state Department of Transportation salt storage depot on Route 12 in Collins Landing has long been blamed by locals and lawmakers alike.

In April, the researchers provided 125 sampling kits for private well users in Orleans to test their drinking water for possible lead contamination. In a release sent to the Times by the college, officials note the study is ongoing, and “results have not been examined to understand patterns in water quality and corrosion.”

Residents who still have sampling kits must return them on June 20, and residents are also still encouraged to participate in the study. Sampling kits are available at The Gal’s Place at 42077 Route 12, Alexandria Bay.

Virginia Tech researchers have analyzed “first-draw” water samples from 77 private wells. The samples are gathered by letting water sit stagnant for at least six hours and then collecting the first draw from a kitchen tap. Researchers reported that nine homes exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead action level. According to the EPA, exceeding the lead action level means the system must take steps to control further corrosion and homeowners should be informed on how to protect their health.

While the EPA rule applies to municipal systems and not private wells, the researchers use the rule as a guideline.

Preliminary results also showed that 13 percent of the first-draw samples contained copper and 12 percent contained zinc. Researchers noted that high levels of both metals can indicate corrosion of brass plumbing components.

Another method of collecting samples involves flushing taps for one minute.

After one minute of flushing, two households contained lead concentrations above the EPA action level. Overall, however, 20 percent of the homes still contained detectable lead.

The Virginia Tech researchers are part of the same team that exposed the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., earlier this year. Leading the study is Dr. Kelsey J. Pieper, a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Tech’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Once all the samples are collected, Dr. Pieper said analysis and interpretation will take time, but she expects the study to be finalized before the end of the year.

Orleans resident Stephanie Weiss, who helped organize the research effort, said she is grateful to the Virginia Tech researchers for their quick response.

“While we are not at the end of the science yet, at least we are getting real answers,” she said.

Learn More