Untapping the Crowd: Consumer Detection and Control of Lead in Drinking Water

EPA Grant Number: 839375
Title: Untapping the Crowd: Consumer Detection and Control of Lead in Drinking Water
Investigators: Edwards, Marc , Berglund, Emily , Cooper, Caren , Katner, Adrienne , Pieper, Kelsey
Institution: Virginia Tech , Louisiana State University , North Carolina State University , Texas A&M , University of Iowa
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: April 1, 2018 through March 31, 2021
Project Amount: $1,981,500
RFA: National Priorities: Transdisciplinary Research into Detecting and Controlling Lead in Drinking Water (2017) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Drinking Water , Water


The 1991 EPA Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) is based on shared responsibility between consumers and water suppliers for reducing water lead exposure, but only utility-centric activities (regulatory sampling, optimal corrosion control, and lead pipe replacement) were emphasized. As public health agencies now strive to eliminate lead exposure, a complementary program of consumer-centric activities and responsibilities is needed. We propose research in which citizen science plays a pivotal role in data collection, development of predictive models that identify areas vulnerable to high water lead, and empowering consumers with interventions to control risks.



We will develop this consumer-centric framework by achieving the following objectives: (1) INVENTORY data on drinking water lead levels and infrastructure to spatially identify risks, (2) PREDICT individual household and community risks using quantitative models, (3) EVALUATE the models through community and citizen science participation in data inventory, data interpretation, and model validation including low-cost in-home water lead testing, (4) INTERVENE by identifying cost effective lead reduction strategies to protect consumers, and (5) SCALE results for dissemination nationally through stakeholders and U.S. states.



We will pursue objectives 1-4 in three states via case studies representing extremes of consumer responsibility: (1) private well owners in Virginia who have 100% responsibility for detecting and controlling water lead risks, (2) Louisiana residents protected by the existing LCR but who live in circumstances that historically make LCR compliance difficult to achieve, and (3) Michigan residents where the State is implementing a more ambitious LCR with consumer-centric elements starting in 2018. We will scale project deliverables nationally, after beta testing in Texas and Iowa, to all states and stakeholders.

Expected Results:

Our transdisciplinary team has pioneered use of citizen science over decades of work on all dimensions of potable water lead issues—experiences and successes that will be leveraged in this proposal. The research deliverables will (1) identify areas vulnerable to lead in water through a national citizen science project that supports predictive modeling of lead in water, and (2) provide online outreach and interactive learning tools to support lead mitigation and intervention in all homes and communities. These consumer-centric activities will enhance environmental, social, and economic pillars of sustainability by reducing lead exposure, restoring lost confidence in tap water, decoupling water conservation and elevated lead problems, promoting environmental justice, civic participation and education, and identifying the most cost-effective and condition-customized interventions.

Supplemental Keywords:

Drinking water; Lead; Citizen science; Interventions; Risk prediction